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Associations between inadequate sleep and cognitive functioning in adolescents

1 January 2016


Sleep problems have been associated with pervasive consequences, including poor physical and mental health, impaired school and work performance, and structural and functional brain alterations. Adolescents face unique barriers to adequate sleep, including a delayed circadian sleep phase cycle that contributes to poor sleep quality/quantity, ultimately affecting academic, emotional, and behavioral outcomes. In adolescent research, sleep disturbances have been inconsistently related to impaired neurocognitive functioning. Given that adolescence is a critical period for brain development, and that sleep-disturbed adolescents may show a unique pattern of neurocognitive impairment, further investigation of this phenomenon is warranted. This study examined the relationships between self-reported sleep-wake problems, sleep phase/chronotype preference, and neuropsychological test scores on measures of memory (Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test; Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning-2 [WRAML-2]: Design Memory), attention/executive functions (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children 4th Edition: Digit Span; Conners Continuous Performance Test-2; Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System: Color-Word Interference), and visual-spatial ability (Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence: Block Design & Matrix Reasoning; WRAML-2 Design Memory) in typically developing adolescents (n = 129). A linear regression analysis demonstrated that higher levels of sleep/wake problems were associated with significantly poorer visual-spatial performance, F(1,127) = 9.60, p < .01, R2 = .07. Sleep/wake problems and chronotype preference were not significantly associated with performance on other measures of neurocognitive functioning. These findings are suggestive of a distinct relationship between sleep/wake problems and visual-spatial dysfunction, which could have adverse implications for school performance, spatial awareness, and nonverbal communication. Future research may consider the role of adequate sleep and erratic sleep/wake behaviors on right hemisphere functions and associated brain networks.


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