Sleep for better School Performance

I’ve talked about the benefits of adequate sleep before, but proper sleep is even more important for kids. Kids are growing and developing and they need sleep to restore hormones. Their brains are growing until they’re about 21 and a lot of their development occurs while sleeping. A lack of sleep can lead to loss of up to 2 years maturation (so basically a 6th grader who is only as mature as a 4th grader). They have a hard time recollecting things they’ve learned because their neurons lose plasticity, and become incapable of forming new synaptic connections to encode the memory. Their prefontal cortex are affected, which orchestrates thoughts to fulfill a goal, predict outcomes, and perceive consequences. Sleeping restores information learned during the day for efficient long term learning. This basically explains why sleep is more important than that late night cram session (especially I think for college students- constantly pulling all-nighters to study). Staying up and studying for that test is actually digressive from what you want and you don’t store the information past that test (you’re not retaining the information). For younger kids though the issue tends to be staying up with all the wonderful technological inventions of the last few decades. Kids watch and average of three hours a day, and usually veg out in front of the tv or computer screens before bed. Besides staying up later, the light from the screens actually keeps them up longer and promotes restless sleep. The light delays the drop in core body temperature and melatonin production, so that sleep is harder to come by. Twenty-five percent of kids have some kind of sleep problem (from restlessness to actual disorders); while 40% of adolescents have significant sleep complaints. What are the repercussions of reduced sleep? Sleep deprivation can cause: memory deficits, impaired performance and alertness; while loss of REM (intense sleep cycle) can result in increased irritability (and people wonder why teenagers are so groggy and moody), anxiety and depression, decreased socialization, reduced concentration (which leads to poor school performance), and decreased ability to handle complex tasks and be creative. In addition kids are growing and sleep is vital to growth hormone production and restoration. What can be done? We’ll start with the most dramatic: schools could start half an hour later. This gives kids more time to sleep, plus studies show that performance is better in the afternoon (actually over 50% of kids said they aren’t fully alert until after 3 PM and 20% of high schoolers sleep in class). One study showed that afternoon reading instruction produced greater reading scores, compared to morning instruction (this is important to note for tests like the SAT and ACT, which tests in the morning, so wouldn’t it make sense to test in the afternoon?). Schools that have moved class times have seen better performances and focus, plus the kids tended to eat a better breakfast and were less tense at home. For most though, getting our school system to change class time isn’t going to happen soon, so what can you do now to help? For a starter get the electronics out of the bedroom and reduce usage time before bed. Get kids on a regular sleep time. This includes the weekend. Having a regular sleep schedule has shown to produce greater hours of actual sleep time (less restless and able to fall asleep better). Childhood is an important part of development and sleep is vital for this development. Help your kids get more sleep so that they’ll have better concentraion and restored hormones!

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