Sleep and Cognitive Functioning in Childhood: Ethnicity, Socioeconomic Status, and Sex as Moderators

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We examined children’s sleep at age 9 as a predictor of developmental trajectories of cognitive performance from ages 9 to 11 years. The effects of sleep on cognition are not uniform and thus we tested race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES), and sex as moderators of these associations. At the first assessment, 282 children aged 9.44 years (52% boys, 65% European American [EA], 35% African American [AA]) participated. Two more waves of data collection spaced 1 year apart followed. The majority of children (63%) were living at or below the poverty line. Children’s sleep was measured objectively with actigraphy and 2 well-established sleep parameters were derived: duration, indexed by sleep minutes between sleep onset and wake time, and quality, indexed by efficiency. Multiple cognitive functioning domains were examined with the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities (WJ III). Across the sample, higher sleep efficiency, but not duration, was associated with better cognitive performance. Significant moderation effects emerged. Controlling for SES, AA children scored lower on general intellectual ability and working memory (WM) at age 11 only if they experienced lower sleep efficiency at age 9. Further, boys scored lower on general abilities and processing speed (PS) at age 11 only if their sleep efficiency was lower at age 9. Findings indicate that lower sleep efficiency may contribute to lower cognitive functioning especially for AA children and boys. These vulnerabilities appear to emerge early in development and are maintained over time. Results underscore the importance of individual differences in explicating relations between sleep and children’s cognitive performance.

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