How Proper Sleep Improves Learning
If you want your children at their best and brightest in school—and in life’s other learning experiences—one of the best things to do is make sure they get enough sleep. Here’s why.
We’re always hearing that Americans don’t get enough sleep—and always convincing ourselves that we can (or must) live on six hours a night. If your kids put up a fuss about going to bed, you might look at your own example before scolding them.
Still, children do need more sleep than adults—11.5 hours average for preschoolers, ten for 6–13-year-olds. Even people in their early twenties may need up to nine hours a night to nurture their still-maturing brains. And the brain at any age will show diminished function when sleep-deprived—think how hard you find it to concentrate after being up all night.
When the brain is properly rested, it performs much more effectively:
- Late-night “cramming” actually decreases performance on academic tests. Students who arrive fresh from a good night’s sleep recall information better, solve deductive problems more effectively, and finish tests faster.
- A sleepless night can reduce the brain’s learning ability by as much as 40 percent.
- Long-term memory function is significantly better in people who get the recommended amount of sleep. The full sleep cycle is essential for brains to effectively “file” recently learned information.
- Better-rested people have better reasoning power and make more effective decisions.
- When economically disadvantaged kids get adequate sleep, their performance in school comes close to that of their better-off peers.
So if your children are struggling to learn, take a good look at their sleep habits—perhaps all they need is a little more rest.
Signs Your Kids May Not Be Getting Enough Sleep:
- They seem restless and hyperactive, especially in the evenings.
- They get clingy, cranky, and/or non-communicative.
- They fall asleep spontaneously during the day, or sleep through the morning alarm.
- They snore at night (this may indicate sleep apnea, which causes frequent “stirring” to increase air supply to the body).
Ways to Help Your Kids Get More and Better Sleep:
- An hour or two before their bedtime, turn off all electronic screens; dim the house lights; and spend some time playing quiet games or listening to soft music.
- Establish a nightly “get ready for bed” routine.
- Avoid large meals or drinks, and anything with caffeine or sugar, in the late evening. (A light snack is okay.)
- Keep the children’s room cool and dark. If anyone has fear-of-the-dark problems, provide comfort objects and/or soothing white noise. If the kids still insist on a night light (or if one is needed for safety in case of getting up in the night), choose a model specifically recommended for not interfering with sleep.
- Reinforce good bedtime behavior with hugs and compliments.
If your child still has insomnia, or snores violently, or awakens screaming or gasping for breath, make a doctor’s appointment to investigate possible underlying causes.