Executive functions in preschool children with chronic insomnia

Oliviero Bruni, Maria Grazia Melegari, Alice Esposito, Stefania Sette, Marco Angriman, Marina Apicella, Barbara Caravale, Raffaele Ferri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Study Objectives: Executive functions (EFs) in children with insomnia have not been sufficiently assessed in the literature. This study aimed to describe sleep patterns and habits and EF abilities in preschool children with insomnia, compared to healthy control patients, and to evaluate the relationships between sleep patterns and EFs. Methods: Two groups of children were recruited: 45 preschoolers with chronic insomnia (28 boys), aged 24-71 months and 167 healthy preschool children (81 boys) aged 24-71 months. Parents of all children completed two questionnaires to assess their children's sleep habits and disturbances, and their EFs with the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function - Preschool Version. Results: Children with chronic insomnia were found to wake up earlier, sleep less during the night, have more nighttime awakenings, and higher nocturnal wakefulness, compared to the control group. The chronic insomnia group showed significant impairment in all the EFs domains. Nocturnal sleep duration, nighttime awakenings, and nocturnal wakefulness correlated with inhibit, plan/organize, working memory, inhibitory self-control, emergent metacognition, and the global executive composite scores in the chronic insomnia group. In the control group, the number of nighttime awakenings correlated with inhibition, inhibitory self-control, and the global executive composite. Regression analyses showed a predominant role of insomnia factor in the association with EFs in both clinical and control groups. Conclusions: Our findings confirm the link between sleep and “higher level” cognitive functioning. The preschool period represents a critical age during which transient sleep problems also might hamper the development of self-regulation skills and the associated neural circuitry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-241
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Sleep Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 15 2020


  • Executive functions
  • Insomnia
  • Preschool
  • Sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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