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Lack of sleep more detrimental for black or low-income children, AU study finds

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Black children and those from low-income families performed slightly worse on cognitive and academic tests than white children and those with higher socio-economic status when the students' sleep was disrupted, a new Auburn University study shows.

Auburn professor and lead researcher Joseph Buckhalt said Thursday the findings could have wide implications, but acknowledged that more research is needed for the information to be applied effectively.

"We kind of regard this as intriguing even though it's preliminary," he said of the study, which was published in the January/February issue of Child Development journal. "It's a foundation for an exciting hypothesis for us that if you can address sleep, you can address a lot of problems."

The study followed 166 average-performing students ages 8 and 9 for one week and looked at their sleep habits. The data was gathered from sleep diaries kept by the children's' parents, who also recorded the youngsters' reports of sleep quality and sleep-related problems such as being drowsy during the day.

Researchers also used wristwatch-sized activity monitors called actigraphs to accurately pinpoint when the children woke up and fell asleep.

On the day following the actigraph monitoring, the third-grade students were given standard academic achievement tests and cognitive tests measuring a range of mental functions.

Buckhalt, who co-wrote the study with his wife Mona El-Sheikh and Notre Dame researcher Peggy Keller, said there was a 7-10 point difference in the scores from students with varying economic backgrounds.

"Both showed detriment when sleep was lost, but the magnitude of the difference was much more pronounced for African-American and lower socio-economic status children," El-Sheikh said. "There were not very large differences except when sleep was poor."

On average, the children studied were getting only 81/2 hours of sleep instead of the recommended 10-11 hours for their age. Black children averaged 20 minutes less sleep per school night than their white counterparts, largely because of earlier wake times, researchers found.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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