Sleep and Learning: Strategies to Help School Children Fall Asleep

Posted by Erica Warren on

Do your students or children struggle to get out of bed in the morning? Do they complain that they are fatigued during the school week? Many youngsters are up late doing homework, and as a result, they do not get the needed rest. In fact, recent research suggests that insufficient sleep has been shown to cause poor school performance, cognitive and emotional problems, disciplinary problems, sleepiness in classes, and poor attention skills. 
Helping children fall asleep

Insufficient Sleep Can Also Lead to:

1. symptoms of depression and anxiety
2. aging of the skin
3. serious health problems
4. weight gain
5. impaired judgement

How Much Sleep Do Children Need?

According to WebMD, the amount of sleep needed varies per age.
· 7-12-year-old children need 10 - 11 hours of sleep per night
· 12-18-year-old adolescents need 8 - 9 hours per night.

What Does the Recent Research Suggest?

Recent research has revealed an association between insufficient sleep and poorer grades and behaviors in school. In 1998, psychologists Amy R. Wolfson of the College of the Holy Cross, and Mary A. Carskadon of Brown University Medical School surveyed more than 3,000 high-school students and found that those who earned C's, D's and F's had about 25 minutes less sleep and went to bed about 40 minutes later than students who received getting A's and B's. In addition, researchers at the University of Minnesota reported on a study of more than 7,000 high-school students that attended a school district that had switched from a 7:15 a.m. to an 8:40 a.m. start time. When compared to students that maintained earlier start times, those that started later reported more sleep on school nights, feeling more alert during the day, earning improvements in grades and experiencing fewer depressive thoughts and behaviors. Furthermore, in 2009, American and French researchers discovered that events in the brain called “sharp wave ripples” are responsible for consolidating memory. This process transfers learned information from the hippocampus to the neocortex, where long-term memories are stored. Sharp wave ripples occur mostly during the deepest levels of sleep which can be impacted by insufficient sleep. What’s more, Wiggs and Stores research reported in, Sleep Disturbance and Daytime Challenging Behaviors in Children with Severe Learning Disabilities, indicated associations between sleep problems and challenging behaviors. They found that sleep problems were more common in children with severe learning disabilities and that these children were also more likely to show daytime irritability, lethargy and hyperactivity. Finally, according to Backhaus, Junghanns, Born, Hodaus, and Faasch from the University of Luebeck, Luebeck, Germany, lack of sleep is associated with diminished consolidation of declarative memory. In other words, during sleep the brain turns recently learned memories into long-term memory storage, and sleep helps to lock in the learning.

What are Some Strategies to Help Students Get Enough Sleep?

  • Avoid television or screen time two hours before bed. Research suggests that children who watch TV before bed stay up later and sleep less than children who do not.
  • Prevent exposure to bright lights two hours before going to sleep. A bright light can disrupt one’s circadian rhythms making it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Keep your child’s bedroom as dark as possible. Even a night light can disrupt sleeping patterns. Help them to get comfortable with the lights off, or leave a nightlight on until they fall asleep.
  • Provide children with a pass that is good for one (and only one) trip out of the bedroom after their bedtime. If needed, allow them to earn a reward for compliance after a few days.
  • Avoid long naps during the day as this can make it difficult to fall asleep in the evening.
  • Engage in calming activities like meditations, lullabies, affection, and storytelling to help children relax and prepare for sleep.
  • If your child still has difficulty falling asleep, encourage them to count backwards in their heads from 100.
fun math resourcesClearly, we need to assure that our children get the needed sleep so that they can optimize their learning as well as their physical and emotional wellbeing. If you know of any other strategies, please share them with us.
Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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