ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2018, Vol. 50 ›› Issue (11): 1269-1281.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2018.01269

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Differential influence of sleep time parameters on preschoolers’ executive function

Shufen XING1(),Qianqian LI1,Xin GAO1,Yuanyuan MA1,Rui FU2   

  1. 1 College of Psychology, Capital Normal University; Beijing Key Laboratory of “Learning & Cognition”, Beijing 100048, China
    2 Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, 19146, USA
  • Received:2018-03-19 Published:2018-11-25 Online:2018-09-25
  • Contact: Shufen XING


In China, disruptive sleep patterns and sleep deficiency are prevalent in preschool children. Literature has largely focused on the relationship between sleep duration and child development in adolescents and school-age children. Yet little is known about the impact of sleep duration in preschool children, for example, on their advanced neurocognitive function. Given that sleep need and sleep maturation develop rapidly in the first years of life, research findings in older children cannot be generalized to preschoolers.

Developmental research indicates individual differences in sleep need. From a developmental perspective, it is crucial to explore whether children’s susceptibility to neurocognitive disruptions is associated with sleep problems. Temperament, one aspect of individual susceptibility, is shown to be relatively stable across situations and developmental periods. In this study, negative emotionality in preschool children was used to indicate temperament. The goal of this study was to examine the links between preschoolers’ initial sleep duration (i.e., total daily sleep duration, ratio of nighttime sleep to total daily sleep, and sleep compensation over the weekend) and later executive function and the moderating role of children’s negative emotionality in the links. The sample was composed of 78 preschool children (Mage = 6.31 years, SD = 0.35) and their mothers. Total daily sleep duration, ratio of nighttime sleep, sleep compensation over the weekend, and child negative emotionality were assessed using parental sleep diaries and mother reports. Child executive function was measured three months later using a set of standardized measurement procedures offered by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The results of the present study indicated that controlling for children’s concurrent language ability, initial ratio of nighttime sleep significantly predicted children’s subsequent executive function. In addition, we found that negative emotionality significantly moderated the relation between sleep compensation and the three components of the executive function (working memory, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility), in support of the differential susceptibility model. Specifically, sleep compensation was positively associated with performance in the executive function tests for preschool children with high negative emotionality whereas the association was nonsignificant for children with low negative emotionality.

In conclusion, our findings suggested that children who sleep longer at night would be more advanced in their EF development. For children with high negative emotionality, sleep compensation over the weekend has a positive effect on their executive function skills. The results of this study provided important practical implications for Chinese preschoolers’ sleep arrangements.

Key words: sleep duration, executive function, negative emotionality, differential susceptibility, preschoolers

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