A great education starts with a good night’s sleep. Important functions take place during sleep, and many of these functions have to do with memory and learning.
Sleep, learning and memory are complex, and medical experts are still working to understand how sleep influences learning. They know that sleep is necessary to keep the human nervous system running well, with sleep deprivation causing drowsiness and inability to concentrate. Sleep deprivation can also reduce a child’s ability to do math calculations, according to the National Institutes of Health. Furthermore, deep sleep coincides with the release of growth hormones in children and teenagers.
Sleep is essential to good health, and is as important as the air you breathe and the food you eat. Research on humans and animals suggest the quantity and quality of sleep can dramatically affect memory and learning in number of ways. Poor sleep can limit the ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems. Sleep deprivation can cause someone to forget important information learned in class, such as names and numbers. Not getting enough sleep, otherwise known as sleep deprivation, can make an individual feel moody, aggressive and unfocused, which are not conducive to a good learning experience.
How Much Sleep is Enough?
Getting enough sleep can help children learn better and manage the stress of adolescence. But how much sleep is enough? The answer depends on your child’s age and personal needs.
Teenagers need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night to function well, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), and younger students need 9 to 11 hours each night. Unfortunately, many kids do not get enough shuteye –only 15% of teenagers said they got 8.5 hours of sleep on school nights, according to a study cited by the American Psychological Association. This lack of sleep can have profound effects on your child’s ability to learn. Early school start times are a major contributing factor in young students not getting enough sleep. Some districts have experimented with later school start times but few have adopted them. This situation has prompted some parents to opt for homeschooling or enroll their children in a virtual charter school that makes it easier for students to get the sleep they need by allowing them the flexibility to set their own preferred school start time.
Simply scheduling an earlier bedtime may not be enough. It is normal for teenagers to have trouble falling asleep before 11 pm, according to the NSF. This is because natural biological sleep patterns for both sleeping and waking shift towards later times, which means teens will usually fall asleep and wake up later than do other people.
Many teens suffer from insomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea and other treatable sleep disorders. These conditions lower sleep quality and, consequently, can interfere with learning. Teenagers also tend to have irregular sleep patterns throughout the week; they get up early to go to school on weekdays but stay up late and sleep in on weekends. These irregular sleep patterns can affect the biological clocks, interfere with quality sleep and ultimately hurt learning.
It can be difficult to tell that a child or teenager is not getting enough sleep because, unlike adults, kids tend to wind up instead of slowing down when they are sleep deprived. They can act as if they are not tired, get hyperactive and even resist sleeping when they do not get enough rest.
A child’s sleep/wake schedule may change naturally as he or she ages. Creating a sleep timetable will depend largely on your child’s age, school and extracurricular activity schedule, health and personal needs.