Sleep linked to language skills in neurodevelopmental disorders

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Adorable little girl sleeping in the bed with her toy

New research has discovered that Down’s syndrome, Fragile X syndrome and Williams syndrome are all linked to sleep disruption in very young children, and that sleep plays a crucial role in the development of these children’s language skills.

Led by Dr Dean D’Souza of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and published in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities, it is believed to be the first cross-syndrome study to examine sleep, and the relationship between sleep and language, in very young children with these neurodevelopmental disorders.

Alongside colleagues from the University of Cambridge, Birkbeck at University of London; The LonDownS Consortium, emmelweis University in Budapest and the University of Oxford, Dr D’Souza compared the vocabulary size and sleep patterns of 75 infants and toddlers with one of these neurodevelopmental disorders alongside 30 typically developing children of the same age.

The researchers found that sleep was disrupted amongst children with all three neurodevelopmental disorders. On average, typically developing children slept for about 50 minutes longer per night than those with a neurodevelopmental disorder.

They also spent less time awake during the night. Whereas typically developing children spent on average just three minutes awake per night, the children with a neurodevelopmental disorder were awake for around 30 minutes longer.

The study also found that the longer the infants and toddlers with Down’s syndrome and Williams syndrome slept at night, the more words they knew. For each additional ten minutes of sleep, these children would understand the meaning of six additional words. The researchers were unable to test this relationship with children with Fragile X syndrome because of the limited sample size.

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