The Relationship between Sleep Patterns and Attention in Primary School Children.

Researcher Cindy van der Wal

Supervisors Associate Professor David Leach

Date: Completed October 2011

Project Number: 2010/209


There has been speculation that dysfunctional sleep patterns are associated with impaired attention and behaviour in children. This exploratory research study aimed to investigate this relationship by analysing the association between sleep quantity and quality, and both objective and subjective measures of attention and its behavioural correlates in primary school students.


Sixteen participants aged 7-11 years and their parents reported on sleep patterns using the Self Sleep Report (SSR) and Child Sleep Habits Questionnaire (CSHQ). Teachers and parents reported on cognitive/inattention problems and related problematic behaviour(s) using the Conners’ Rating Scales-Revised: Short Forms. Visual and audio attention was measured using the Test of Attention for Children (TA-C), a computerized assessment instrument originally created by Doug Brewer and David Leach.


Significant correlations were observed between the multifaceted attention measures, and parent and child sleep report measures demonstrated a moderate significant correlation. A highly significant relationship was found between the SSR and TA-C. Correlations were also found between SSR bedtime behaviour, and attention measures on both the TA-C visual and audio subtests and Conners’ parental report. However, no significant relationships were found between any specific subscale measures of sleep, attention and behaviour after corrected Bonferroni alpha levels were applied. Comparative means indicated disproportionately high levels of dysfunctional sleep patterns, impaired attention and related behaviours within the sample population.


Though no statistically significant relationships were found between particular measures of sleep quantity and quality and measures of attention and behaviour, confirmation of general relationships between attention and sleep suggests this is an area of research that clearly requires further exploration. The study highlighted the significance of both sleep and attention problems within this group of primary school children. However, the data indicated that these participants were possibly biased towards the most dysfunctional side of typical primary school students and thus created a more homogenous group than might have been obtained from a random sample. The lack of variability in scores on the sleep and attention measures may have masked the analysis of finer relationships between them.