Student Sleep Needs and Academic Success

Are Students Getting Enough Sleep 
Boy on the floor, holding his head.

Student sleep needs are not being met. School-age children need more sleep than we might think.  Going to bed with devices, games, and television can keep them from falling asleep and affect the quality of sleep they get.  This can cause health and learning problems. 

Why Student Sleep Needs Matter

Sleep is a foundational key to the overall health of adults and children.  Lack of sleep can have physical and intellectual effects.  These side effects can often be confused with AHDH and other learning difficulties. 

Learning Problems Caused Students Not Getting Enough Sleep

Boy with his head against a stack of books.  Is it sleep or a disability?

Students not getting enough sleep can demonstrate trouble concentrating, a lack of focus, forgetfulness, and confusion.  

Students will struggle to learn, memorize, retain, recall, and apply knowledge in new situations when they are sleep-deprived, according to med.upenn.edu.  Long-term memories are built during REM sleep.  Children, and students who are not getting enough sleep will often struggle in school. 

Student Learning Problems – The Research and Student Sleep

Four specific tasks documented by Sam Turner at dreams.co.uk are

1) Trouble recognizing patterns.

2) Memorizing information

3) Finding new creative solutions to problems

4) Clear thinking 

These same concerns were documented by Ed Young in theatlantic.com. 

Girl with her head down on a book.  Struggles in school - is it lack of sleep?

Causes of Sleep Deprivation in Students

Girl in bed on her phone
Blue Light - prevents sleep

Research by Chris Colwell, UCLA shows that any light can keep the sympathetic area of the autonomic nervous system alert causing a person to think they slept well, but in reality, their brain was on alert all night long.

The blue light from screens, which so many children take to bed with them, results in it being harder to fall asleep and a poor quality of sleep when they do.

Blue lights from devices can keep a child’s brain alert even while sleeping.  It has been found that blue light suppresses melatonin twice as long making it harder to fall asleep even if a child is tired. 

How Much Sleep is Enough?

When children enter Kindergarten they require between 10 to 13 hours of sleep on average.  Between the ages of 6 and 12 years, a child will need between 9 and 12 hours.  Students in their teen years still need between 8 and 10 hours.  Although there is a range, the sleep needs of a specific child will not dramatically change just because they are a year older.  Sports and activities will increase the need for more sleep. 

How much sleep is enough.  Girl happy on her bed.

Health and Mental Concerns Due to Lack of Sleep in Students

Devices ruin sleep = depression
Boy staring at his phone at night

Students may also exhibit mental health concerns when coping daily with a lack of sleep.  The brain’s ability to adapt to input is compromised.  In addition, many sleep studies have drawn a correlation between lack of sleep and depression. 

When a child is not getting enough sleep it can also increase their levels of cortisol causing them to feel stress and anxiety. 

Healthy Sleep Habits for Students

5- healthy student sleep habits
Girl asleep in bed
  • Research suggests children are in daylight or bright light during waking hours.   Daytime exercise so the body is physically tired as well.
  • Stop exposure to screens two hours before falling asleep.
  • Situate the bed in a cool, quiet, and dark location.
  • Take a warm shower or bath before bed.
  • Engage in imaginative thinking or reading until falling asleep. 

Action Steps to Support Students

When meeting with parents, make sure they understand the need for sleep and the impact electronics have on sleep.

When assessing for learning difficulties, don’t discount the role of sleep in causing symptoms that can be mistaken for other disabilities.

Check-in with students that are taking medication but no improvement is seen, and that sleep has also been addressed in the home.

Student Support
Girl asleep at school

Informing Parents

How to Talk to Parents
Four adults smiling in a meeting

It can be difficult to bring up sleep and the home during meetings.  By creating a culture where sleep information is provided to all parents you can keep parents from becoming defensive.

Below I have a link to a Sleep and Attendance bundle that is ideal to have available at all parent meetings. 

When students are older they too can become educated in how to create sleep environments that put them at the top of their game. 

As we move further into the 21st century, electronics will surely be more available and intrusive in our children’s lives.  The knowledge of its affects on sleep is the only way a parent would know the impact of falling asleep to an app.   As educators see more and more children with focus, learning and memory problems, it is a real situation we can change when sleep is the root of the problem. 

Sleep Need Brochure to Share with Parents

Here is a link to a Sleep and Attendance bundle that is ideal to have available at all parent meetings. 

It can be sent home with meeting invitations, provided at the table during all meetings or be in the office for all parents.

The flyer can go home at the beginning of the year, or just around report cards to help open the discussion that sleep may be impacting grades and success in school.

Accommodating Students who Struggle

There are so many areas, including sleep that can cause students to struggle in school.

I am a teacher of 35 years, and intervention specialist.

If you need help meeting diverse needs of students, sign up, and receive my free Accommodation Idea bank.

You are not in this alone.

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