Sleep matters for school performance

If your child is having trouble focusing in school, one of the first questions you should ask yourself as a parent is: Is my child getting enough sleep?

Recently, researcher Avi Sadeh, director of the Laboratory for Children’s Sleep and Arousal Disorders at Tel Aviv University, investigated the effects of adding or subtracting just one hour of sleep from a child’s sleep schedule.

Seventy-seven fourth- and sixth-graders were asked to wear an actigraph, a wrist device that detects movement, allowing Sadeh to determine each child’s individual sleep schedule and sleep quality. For the first two nights of the study, each child continued their normal sleep routine. For the last three nights, parents were asked either to extend or reduce their child’s sleep time by one hour. Children were tested at both the beginning and the end of the study to determine how even small changes in sleep patterns affected their performance.

Which children performed best? Those who got an extra hour of sleep. Even when children woke during the night, as long as they received the extra hour of sleep they still did best on Sadeh’s tests, indicating that it’s the amount of sleep time that counts.

Without enough rest, your child’s ability to focus will quickly deteriorate as the school day progresses. Lack of sleep impairs the brain’s ability to extract glucose from the bloodstream. The prefrontal cortex will suffer first, having lost its energy, and will affect, among other things, impulse control. Stated simply, a tired brain isn’t ready to learn and a tired child will have trouble staying on task.

In general, doctors recommend 10-11 hours of sleep for elementary school aged children. Teenagers require a minimum of 8½ hours.

Remember that kids need time to wind down before bed. Make every effort to have your children in bed, lights out, at a set bedtime. Enforce a no electronic media policy during the one hour prior to your child’s set bedtime to encourage distraction-free quiet time (no TV, videogames, etc.). Encourage kids to finish homework before 5 p.m. so they can enjoy the evening without worrying about tying up loose school ends.

As an added bonus, with the kids in bed at their proper times, you’ll have a moment to quietly relax or catch up on your own much needed sleep.

Check out Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Marc Weissbluth, MD ($10, for more information on establishing good sleep habits. 

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