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May 28, 2015 04:42 PM EDT

Sleep Quality May Influence Cognitive Performance

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New research suggests that sleep quality may influence children's intelligence.

Researchers at the University of Montreal found that one night of poor sleep significantly decreases performance on intelligence tests in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and also children without the developmental disorder.

"We observed that the more a child had these waves throughout the night, the better the child was at cognitive tasks, particularly the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children," Sophie Tessier, first author of the study, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers observed the EEG measures of 13 autistic children and 13 neurotypical children. The neurotypical participants had a mean age of 10 years old without an intellectual deficiency or sleep problems.

They found that disruptions in protective brain waves during sleep are associated with lower results on verbal IQ tests. However, the researchers noted that the relationship between these sleep waves and cognitive performance differs between neurotypical and autistic children, as different brain regions are involved for each group.

"This is an important discovery that confirms the major role of sleep in consolidating cognitive abilities," explained Roger Godbout, the director of the Sleep Research Laboratory at the Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies. "This study establishes beyond a doubt that children and adolescents are particularly affected by a lack of sleep, especially because they are in an important developmental period. This is also an important finding given that 10 to 25 percent of Canadian children and adolescents -- and 45 to 85 percent of autistic children--have sleep problems."

The findings, which are detailed in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, "gives hope to anyone living with autism thanks to new avenues to both treat insomnia and help these children fully develop their abilities," researchers said.

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