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Sleep duration, brain structure, and psychiatric and cognitive problems in children


Low sleep duration in adults is correlated with psychiatric and cognitive problems. We performed for the first time a large-scale analysis of sleep duration in children, and how this relates to psychiatric problems including depression, to cognition, and to brain structure. Structural MRI was analyzed in relation to sleep duration, and psychiatric and cognitive measures in 11,067 9–11-year-old children from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, using a linear mixed model, mediation analysis, and structural equation methods in a longitudinal analysis. Dimensional psychopathology (including depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior) in the children was negatively correlated with sleep duration. Dimensional psychopathology in the parents was also correlated with short sleep duration in their children. The brain areas in which higher volume was correlated with longer sleep duration included the orbitofrontal cortex, prefrontal and temporal cortex, precuneus, and supramarginal gyrus. Longitudinal data analysis showed that the psychiatric problems, especially the depressive problems, were significantly associated with short sleep duration 1 year later. Further, mediation analysis showed that depressive problems significantly mediate the effect of these brain regions on sleep. Higher cognitive scores were associated with higher volume of the prefrontal cortex, temporal cortex, and medial orbitofrontal cortex. Public health implications are that psychopathology in the parents should be considered in relation to sleep problems in children. Moreover, we show that brain structure is associated with sleep problems in children, and that this is related to whether or not the child has depressive problems.

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Fig. 1: Sleep duration, and cognitive and psychiatric problems scores.
Fig. 2: Brain regions with their area significantly related to sleep duration, cognitive scores, and depressive scores.
Fig. 3: The relation between depressive problems scores and sleep duration.


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Use of the ABCD ( dataset is acknowledged. A full list of supporters of ABCD project is available at JF is supported by the 111 Project (No. B18015), the key project of Shanghai Science and Technology (No. 16JC1420402), National Key R&D Program of China (No. 2018YFC1312900), National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC 91630314), Shanghai Municipal Science and Technology Major Project (No. 2018SHZDZX01), and ZJLab. WC is supported by grants from the National Natural Sciences Foundation of China (No. 81701773, 11771010), sponsored by Shanghai Sailing Program (No. 17YF1426200). WC is also sponsored by Natural Science Foundation of Shanghai (No. 18ZR1404400). JZ is supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 61573107), and also sponsored by Natural Science Foundation of Shanghai (No. 17ZR1444200). XYZ is supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 81873893). FL is supported by funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 81571031, No. 81761128035, No. 81930095, and No. 81701334), Shanghai Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning (No. 2017ZZ02026, No. 2018BR33, No. 2017EKHWYX−02, and No. GDEK201709), Shanghai Shenkang Hospital Development Center (No. 16CR2025B), Shanghai Municipal Education Commission (No. 20152234), Shanghai Committee of Science and Technology (No. 17XD1403200, No. 19410713500, and No. 18DZ2313505), Shanghai Municipal Science and Technology Major Project (No. 2018SHZDZX01), Guangdong Key Project in "Development of new tools for diagnosis and treatment of Autism" (2018B030335001), Xinhua Hospital of Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine (2018YJRC03, Talent introduction−014, Top talent−201603).

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Cheng, W., Rolls, E., Gong, W. et al. Sleep duration, brain structure, and psychiatric and cognitive problems in children. Mol Psychiatry 26, 3992–4003 (2021).

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