Are you getting enough sleep? Even with the well-documented evidence that sleep is necessary to learning, students continue to face increasing demands on their time, like extracurricular activities, doing hours of homework each night, or cramming the night before for a test. A recent study in the journal Child Development followed Los Angeles high school students for 14 days and were surprised to find that sleeping less in order to study was actually associated with doing more poorly on an exam.
In a study at the University of York researchers found that sleep even helps boost language acquisition skills in young children. Children were able to recall and recognize new words and improved retention approximately a week after learning, but only if they slept well. The study shows that when they sleep enough, children show the same learning patterns as adults.
How does this happen?
Towards the end of a typical six- to eight-hour night of sleep, the brain gets a chance to rejuvenate during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This is the stage that’s crucial for learners because the brain is basically replaying everything that happened during the day, consolidating what was learned, and clears out old, unnecessary memories to make room for new information. Just as with adults, sleep-deprived kids won’t be able to focus as well, and over time, the effects of sleep deprivation will wear on the body.
What’s the solution?
Madeline Levine, author of Teach Your Children Well, suggests high schools should adjust their schedules to meet the needs of adolescents. School should start at 10 a.m. to help ensure high school students get the nine hours they need. (Yes, she said nine hours.) That would help them to focus in class and could even prevent depression, a condition increasingly linked to lack of sleep.
Really though, it’s not just about the number of hours in bed – it’s about the quality of sleep. For young ones, it’s especially important to establish a routine, not to eat carbohydrates before sleep, and to avoid bright screens before bed. Whatever evening routine works you and your family, I think it’s clear we can all benefit with some quality shut-eye. (Yawn!) Good night!