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The Informed Parent

Enough Sleep Means Successful Learning

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Feb. 06, 2006

Parents know from experience the importance of assuring that their children get enough sleep. From infancy through adolescence, the signs of sleep deprivation are evident. Babies cry more. Toddlers become obstinate and cranky. Children whine and lose interest in their activities. Adolescents become like toddlers--obstinate and cranky! Parents could guess that a child's school performance might suffer.

Over the past several years numbers of articles have appeared in newspapers and journals about the importance of sleep. Lack of sleep in adults has been linked to greater numbers of car accidents, poor memory, and inhibited performance on the job.

Recently a definitive study on sleep and school performance in children was conducted at Brown Medical School. Although the study was short, three weeks, the results seemed conclusive. When children get too little sleep, academics suffer.

The researchers recruited 74 students ages 6 through 12 who were reported to be good sleepers getting nine to nine-and-a-half hours of sleep each night. The children had no learning disorders. For one week the children went to bed and got up at their usual time. Throughout a second week they were required to spend at least 10 hours in bed each night. During a third week, they were kept up an hour later than usual, which gave first and second graders no more than eight hours in bed and older students no more than six-and-a-half hours.

Teachers were not apprised about what amounts of sleep the children were receiving during which week. They rated the students on a number of performance measures. Ratings showed significantly more academic problems during the week of sleep deprivation. These included forgetfulness, difficulty learning new material, and problems in paying attention.

While the study said nothing about how much sleep children need, it appears that young children do best with 10-to-11 hours of sleep while teens need about eight-and-a-half hours.

Frequently studies of behavior confirm that which seems obvious, but human nature and curiosity often demands proof. It lends validity to that which we know, or think we know, through common sense. Studies such as the one reported serve a purpose: they give us data to prove that our specific thought on a matter is actually correct. Not all old wives tales are true and not all folk remedies work. Scientific data allows us to chose based on fact and not belief alone.

While one might assume that children must be well rested if they are to be successful learners, we now know that it is true. It behooves parents to make the effort to create a bedtime ritual, to choose a reasonable time for sleep depending on the child's age, and to be consistent in making sure the bedtime is adhered to.

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