Sleep Moderates the Association Between Response Inhibition and Self-Regulation in Early Childhood

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Early childhood is a time of rapid developmental changes in sleep, cognitive control processes, and the regulation of emotion and behavior. This experimental study examined sleep-dependent effects on response inhibition and self-regulation, as well as whether acute sleep restriction moderated the association between these processes. Preschool children (N = 19; 45.6 ± 2.2 months; 11 female) followed a strict sleep schedule for at least 3 days before each of 2 morning behavior assessments: baseline (habitual nap/night sleep) and sleep restriction (missed nap/delayed bedtime). Response inhibition was evaluated via a go/no-go task. Twelve self-regulation strategies were coded from videotapes of children while attempting an unsolvable puzzle. We then created composite variables representing adaptive and maladaptive self-regulation strategies. Although we found no sleep-dependent effects on response inhibition or self-regulation measures, linear mixed-effects regression showed that acute sleep restriction moderated the relationship between these processes. At baseline, children with better response inhibition were more likely to use adaptive self-regulation strategies (e.g., self-talk, alternate strategies), and those with poorer response inhibition showed increased use of maladaptive self-regulation strategies (e.g., perseveration, fidgeting); however, response inhibition was not related to self-regulation strategies following sleep restriction. Our results showing a sleep-dependent effect on the associations between response inhibition and self-regulation strategies indicate that adequate sleep facilitates synergy between processes supporting optimal social-emotional functioning in early childhood. Although replication studies are needed, findings suggest that sleep may alter connections between maturing emotional and cognitive systems, which have important implications for understanding risk for or resilience to developmental psychopathology.

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