Learning can and should be fun, but it also takes concentration, effort, and persistence.
Children need adequate sleep to do all that is asked of them. No matter the age, children need sleep for concentration, emotional stability, and continued excellence in their academic performance.
Staying Focused and Emotionally Stable
Children aren’t expected to have the same attention span as adults, but they need the ability to stay on task for learning to take place. Lack of sleep causes decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain that controls executive functions and contributes to attention and concentration. Consequently, their minds are more likely to wander away from their lessons without enough sleep. But, the problems caused by lack of sleep go deeper into their emotional stability.Lack of sleep also causes changes in the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions. It becomes more sensitive to negative emotions, thoughts, and events. The child that would normally play well with others may become combative, aggressive, or weepy if she hasn’t gotten enough sleep. Together, the changes in the prefrontal cortex and amygdala result in greater impulsivity and emotional outbursts, which can interfere with academic and social success in the classroom.
Academic performance can’t help but be influenced by a lack of sleep. A study conducted at McGill University and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montréal looked at not only the amount of sleep children got but their sleep efficiency and how it affected their academic performance.Sleep efficiency is the ratio of time slept versus how much time is spent in bed. Wakefulness, early waking, and problems at the onset of sleep decrease sleep efficiency. Without good sleep efficiency, children don’t spend enough time in each sleep stage, which is essential for a fully restorative night’s rest. The study found that poor sleep efficiency lowered academic performance in key subject areas.The children involved in the study, whose ages ranged from 7 to 11, performed better in language arts and math when their sleep time was extended an average of 18.2 minutes. Eighteen minutes may not seem like a lot, but it could be enough for the body to complete a sleep cycle or spend a few more minutes in rapid eye movement (REM).
How Can We Help?
Roughly 22 to 25 percent of all children experience sleep problems that range from sleep disorders to anxiety and nightmares. While some sleep issues may require the aid of a physician, helping children learn about and develop healthy sleep habits can help too. Parents can encourage and build habits that support good sleep like:
- A Consistent Bedtime: The human body responds well to consistency. An established bedtime helps children understand their boundaries and rules but also helps their brain know when to start the release of sleep hormones.
- A Bedtime Routine: For children that have trouble falling asleep, a bedtime routine is absolutely essential. It gives their mind and body time to calm and relax before bed while helping the brain recognize when to release sleep hormones. Activities like reading a book, listening to quiet music, or a warm bath can all help children to calm down before bed.
- Removing Electronics from the Bedroom: Not only do electronic devices emit a bright light that can suppress sleep hormones, they can prove to be a distraction that’s hard to ignore. Whether it’s watching a cartoon, gaming, or scrolling through social media, use of electronics delays the onset of sleep and shortens total sleep time. Remove them from the bedroom and turn them off two to three hours before bed to prevent sleep delays.
- Sleep-Promoting Bedtime Snacks: Younger children may need a bedtime snack to tide them over until morning. Some foods have nutrients that are used in the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone that induces sleep. A warm cup of milk, yogurt, almonds, and bananas can aid in the production of melatonin for improved sleep.
Well-rested students are students prepared to learn. They’ll not only have a foundation for improved academic success but for long-term emotional and social well-being.