Mind-wandering, or the allocation of attentional resources, is sleep-driven across childhood

Sci Rep. 2019 Feb 4;9(1):1269. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-37434-5.


Mind-wandering or the spontaneous, uncontrolled changes in the allocation of attention resources (lapses) may cause variability in performance. In childhood, the relationship between the activation state of the brain, such as in attentional performance, and sleep has not been explored in detail. We investigated the role of sleep in attentional performance, and explored the most important parameters of their relationship. We objectively measured momentary lapses of attention of 522 children and correlated them with sleep schedules. In the subgroup of young children (age 7.1 ± 0.6 years; 60.8% girls), increasing age, long sleep duration and assessment closer to the previous night's sleep period was associated with impaired performance speed and consistency. From pre-adolescence (age 9.4 ± 0.8 years; 50.5% girls) onwards somno-typologies may develop. As a result, in adolescence (age 13.4 ± 1.2 years; 51.3% girls) not only sleep duration but also sleep midpoint and sleep regularity influence the individual speed and stability of attention. Across development, regularity of sleep, individual sleep midpoint and bedtime become increasingly important for optimal performance throughout the day. Attentional performance and sleep shared almost half of their variance, and performance was sleep-driven across childhood. Future studies should focus on intra- and inter-individual differences in sleep-wake behavior to improve performance or decrease mind-wandering in youth by targeting sleep habits.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Thinking / physiology*