Snooze or Lose

Snooze or Lose

How Sleep Impacts Children's Learning and Academic Performance

By Dr. Peter Klapper Ph.D.

It’s no secret that sleep is essential. It’s even more important for children because it supports growth and development and can have an impact on academic performance. Most children from the ages of 6 to 13 need between 9 and 11 hours of sleep per night to not only minimize behavioral problems but also minimize cognitive deficits believed to impact the ability to learn.

In this blog post, we will take a dive into how sleep impacts children’s learning and academic performance.

The Science of Sleep
Every night our heads hit the pillow; a lot happens in the sleep department. Sleep is divided into two main types: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Each type consists of several stages, each with its own characteristics and functions. Those include:

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) Sleep:

  • Stage N1: Also known as the lightest stage of sleep and only lasts a few minutes. During this stage, you may feel like you are drifting in and out of sleep and can be easily awakened. Muscle activity slows down, and you may experience sudden muscle contractions, called hypnic myoclonia.
  • Stage N2: This is a slightly deeper stage of sleep, lasting about 20 minutes. During this stage, your body temperature drops, and your heart rate slows down. Your body prepares for deep sleep, and brain activity becomes more rhythmic.
  • Stage N3: Also known as deep sleep, is the deepest stage of NREM sleep. It is important for physical restoration, growth, and repair. During this stage, your muscles relax, blood pressure drops, and blood flow to muscles increases. This stage is crucial for feeling refreshed in the morning and for overall health.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep:

  • REM Sleep is characterized by rapid eye movements, increased brain activity, and vivid dreams. This stage usually occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and can last for up to an hour. REM sleep is essential for cognitive functions such as memory consolidation, learning, and mood regulation. It is also thought to be important for emotional processing and stress regulation.

And while all individuals experience these different stages of sleep, children will need more sleep than adults. The recommended amount of sleep for children is as follows:

  • Infants (4-12 months): 12-16 hours per day, including naps.
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours per day, including naps. Naps become more regular, and nighttime sleep consolidates into a single block.
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours per day, including naps. Naps become less frequent, and most children transition to a single daytime nap.
  • School-age Children (6-12 years): 9-12 hours per day. They may start to experience more difficulty falling asleep and waking up early due to changes in circadian rhythms.
  • Teenagers (13-18 years): 8-10 hours per day. Adolescents often experience a shift in their circadian rhythm, leading to a preference for later bedtimes and later wake-up times.

The Link Between Sleep and Learning
So, how does this all play into children’s sleep and learning? Well, sleep plays a crucial role in cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and problem-solving. Research has consistently shown that adequate sleep is essential for optimal cognitive performance.

One key aspect is memory consolidation, where the brain processes and stores information learned during the day. During sleep, especially during REM sleep, the brain consolidates memories, making them more stable and easier to retrieve. This process is vital for learning new information and skills.

Sleep also plays a role in attention and problem-solving. Lack of sleep can lead to difficulties in sustaining attention, processing information, and making decisions. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can impair cognitive functions, affecting academic performance and learning outcomes.

Sleep Deprivation and Academic Challenges
When your child can’t sleep, the sleep deprivation that follows can lead to a range of negative effects on their academic performance and overall well-being. Common signs of sleep deprivation include difficulty waking up, daytime sleepiness, irritability, and poor concentration. While lack of sleep can result in poor academic performance due to decreased motivation, impaired memory, and difficulty focusing in class.

Additionally, sleep-deprived children may exhibit behavioral issues that can disrupt the learning environment. It is crucial for parents and caregivers to prioritize healthy sleep habits to support children's learning and development.

Not to mention, research has also found a clear link between sleep duration and academic performance. Students who get enough sleep tend to perform better in school compared to those who are sleep deprived. Shorter sleep duration is also associated with lower academic achievement, including poorer grades and standardized test scores.

Practical Tips for Healthy Sleep Habits
This brings us to the age-old question, how do you help your kids sleep and stay asleep? Most parents have experienced the nighttime battle that comes with bedtime, especially with toddlers and younger kids. If you start with practical sleep tips while their young, it can help them through adolescence. Some tips for healthy sleep habits may include:

  • Consistent Bedtime Routine: Establish a regular bedtime routine that includes calming activities such as reading or taking a warm bath to signal to the body that it's time to wind down. You should also consider setting a consistent time for bed, even on weekends.
  • Limit Screen Time: Avoid screen time at least an hour before bedtime, as the blue light emitted can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.
  • Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment: Ensure the bedroom is conducive to sleep by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet. Consider using white noise machines or earplugs to block out any disruptive sounds.

Overall, healthy sleep habits are crucial for children's learning and academic performance. Lack of sleep can lead to difficulties in school, including poor concentration, decreased motivation, and lower grades, but by promoting healthy sleep habits, parents can establish a consistent bedtime routine that will help their children in years to come.

If you still find that your children need additional support, consider incorporating a natural sleep aid, such as Sleep Well Kids, into your child's bedtime routine to help promote better sleep without disrupting hormone levels. In the end, prioritizing healthy sleep habits is key to supporting children's overall well-being and academic success.

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