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Children and Sleep: If They Don’t Snooze, They Lose…

If your child isn’t getting enough sleep, his performance in school drops. Well that’s obvious. But what may not be obvious is how significantly it impacts your child if he misses just one hour of sleep a night.

“A sleep deprivation study on a group of elementary students revealed that sixth graders, missing one hour of sleep a night, performed in class at the level of a fourth grader.”

The Lost Hour, Nurture Shock

“children between the ages of 10 and 16 who have sleep disordered breathing, which includes snoring, sleep apnea, and other types of interrupted breathing during sleep, are more likely to have problems with attention and learning, according to a 2010 study in the journal Sleep”


Getting enough sleep is vital to academic success

These are 6 reasons from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on why sleep is important for academic success:

  • Sleepiness and poor sleep quality are prevalent among university students, affecting their academic performance and daytime functioning.
  • Students with symptoms of sleep disorders are more likely to receive poor grades in classes such as math, reading and writing than peers without symptoms of sleep disorders.
  • College students with insomnia have significantly more mental health problems than college students without insomnia.
  • College students with medical-related majors are more likely to have poorer quality of sleep in comparison to those with a humanities major.
  • College students who pull “all-nighters” are more likely to have a lower GPA.
  • Students who stay up late on school nights and make up for it by sleeping late on weekends are more likely to perform poorly in the classroom. This is because, on weekends, they are waking up at a time that is later than their internal body clock expects. The fact that their clock must get used to a new routine may affect their ability to be awake early for school at the beginning of the week when they revert back to their old routine.
Andrew Tan from Pixabay
Image by Andrew Tan from Pixabay


Sleep problems and drug use

According to the American Psychological Association:

“a long-term study published in the 2004 April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, [showed that] young teenagers whose preschool sleep habits were poor were more than twice as likely to use drugs, tobacco or alcohol. The researchers suggest that early sleep problems may be a “marker” for predicting later risk of early adolescent substance abuse—and that there may be a common biological factor underlying both traits.”


Sleep and mental health problems

According to the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, teenagers who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk for developing mental health problems.

each hour of lost sleep was associated with a 38 percent increase in the odds of feeling sad and hopeless, a 42 percent increase in considering suicide, a 58 percent increase in suicide attempts and a 23 percent increase in substance abuse. – Scientific American

Why is sleep important?

The Harvard Health Publications share these reasons why it is important to get enough sleep:

  • Learning and memory – sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
  • Metabolism and weight – chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
  • Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime.
  • Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
  • Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.

Health Magazine adds that sleep also has these effects:

  • spurs creativity – your brain reorganizes and restructures memory which may result in more creativity. Additionally, people seem to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep, which may help spur the creative process.
  • improved physical performance – a Stanford University study found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time and had less daytime fatigue and more stamina.
  • facilitates weight loss – researchers at the University of Chicago found that dieters who were well rested lost more fat—56% of their weight loss—than those who were sleep deprived, who lost more muscle mass. Dieters in the study also felt more hungry when they got less sleep. “Sleep and metabolism are controlled by the same sectors of the brain,” Dr. Rapoport says. “When you are sleepy, certain hormones go up in your blood, and those same hormones drive appetite.”
  • not sleeping enough can lead to depression


Why are children sleeping later?

  • hectic family schedules – reluctance of late-working parents to pack their kids off to bed early, sheer parental exhaustion allows kids to win the sleeptime skirmishes
  • over-scheduling with too many extra-curricular activities
  • overstimulation in children who have TVs in their bedrooms, play video games too close to bedtime, or even texting on their phones

How do you know when your child is not sleeping enough?

  • constantly falling asleep in the car even on short trips
  • eye rubbing, irritability, and aggressive behavior
  • a child who needs a lot of prodding to start moving in the morning may be sleeping too late

Even if your child gets up on her own, that isn’t necessarily a sign that she’s fully rested. Dr Mindell, director of behavioral pediatrics of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, explains that we have very strong internal clocks and some children will wake up at a certain hour no matter what time they go to bed.


The problem with teenagers and sleep

Probably the most concerning issue with children and sleep involves teenagers…

“during the teen years, the body’s circadian rhythm (sort of like an internal biological clock) is temporarily reset, telling a person to fall asleep later and wake up later. This change might be due to the fact that the brain hormone melatonin is produced later at night for teens than it is for kids and adults. This can make it harder for teens to fall asleep early.” KidsHealth

Jess Foami from Pixabay
Image by Jess Foami from Pixabay

Given the early start times of school, our teenagers can suffering from a significant sleep deficit over time.

With this understanding of teenage sleep patterns, there has been a push for later start times for highschools. Even pushing back the start time of schools by 25 minutes can make an impact on teenage productivity. Unfortunately for us, this movement hasn’t really taken place here. Here’s hoping the schools will make the change before my boys hit their teenage years and start highschool…



Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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