Kids need more sleep to get better grades

Written by BFIS Staff

Sorry, parents, but you might need to start enforcing bedtime. Or letting your kids sleep in. Sleep deprivation or not getting enough hours of sleep is linked to a slew of negatives academic and health consequences. But, how much sleep should our students get? Is it all about quantity or better sleep efficiency? 

While no one likes a bedtime battle, a new study shows that a good night’s sleep can translate to improved academic performance. Researchers at McGill University and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal found that children who had a better quality sleep performed better in math and languages.

Sleep plays a fundamental role in the way we learn. Poor quality of sleep – caused by lots of waking up during the night – has been reported to be a strong predictor of lower academic performance, reduced capacity for attention, poor executive function, and challenging behaviors during the day. 

Emerging evidence makes a compelling case for the importance of sleep for language learning, memory, executive function, problem solving, and behavior during childhood.

More versus better sleep

Sleep plays a critical role in academic children’s performance. A new study from McGill University and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal finds that getting a good night’s rest is not just about the quantity of sleep

The researchers investigated the connection between academic performance and what they call ‘sleep efficiency’, or the ratio of time spent in bed to time spent sleeping. They found that better sleep efficiency—more sleep for the amount of time spent in bed at night— is linked to better grades.

Study leader Reut Gruber, professor in McGill’s Department of Psychiatry explains that sleep plays a larger role in academic performance than most may realize. 

“We believe that executive functions (the mental skills involved in planning, paying attention, and multitasking, for example) underlie the impact of sleep on academic performance, and these skills are more critical in math and languages than other subjects. Short or poor sleep is a significant risk factor for poor academic performance that is frequently ignored”.

In a recent study involving 48 students between 16 and 19 years old recruited through an independent sixth-form college in central London, researchers at the Lifespan Learning and Sleep Laboratory at UCL examined the link between sleep, academic performance, and environmental factors. 

Their results showed that the majority of the teenagers achieved just over seven hours of sleep, with an average bedtime of 11.37 pm. The study showed that a longer amount of sleep and earlier bedtimes – measures of sleep quantity – were most strongly correlated with better academic results obtained by the students on a number of tests taken at school.

In contrast, measures that were indicative of sleep quality were mostly linked with students’ performances on verbal reasoning tests and on grade point averages on tests at school. So it appears from their results that “longer sleep” is more closely related to academic performance, while “good night sleep” is more closely related to overall cognitive processing.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that children ages five to 12 get 10 -11 hours of sleep a night. (Teenagers need about 9 hours, but studies suggest only 15% of them get it.) If your child currently clocks in less than that, it might be time for a bedtime reevaluation.

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

In previous studies, clinical psychologist Reut Gruberand and her team looked at sleep extension—adding hours to sleep time—and while they didn’t look at the math, they did study behavior and attention and saw an improvement in both areas.

If your children are surfing the web, playing a video game, or using the phone as an alarm clock in the late evening, they are probably keeping themselves from a restful night.

Sleep Tips

To improve your child’s sleep, try these sleep tips: 

  • Make sleep a healthy priority in your family’s busy schedule. 
  • Set appropriate and consistent bedtimes for yourself and your children, and stick to them.
  • Know how your child is using electronics in the bedroom. Create a plan for appropriate use at night and set boundaries about use before and after bedtime.
  • Educate yourself and your child on how light from electronic device screens can interfere with sleep.
  • Talk to your child about the importance of sleep for health and well-being.
  • Talk to your child’s teacher(s) about your child’s alertness during the day. Let your child’s teacher(s) know that you want to be made aware of any reports of your child falling asleep in school.
  • Remember that you are a role model to your child; set a good example.
  • Create a sleep-supportive bedroom and home environment, by dimming the lights before bedtime and controlling the temperature (in most cases, temperatures above 75 degrees and below 54 degrees Fahrenheit will disrupt sleep).
  • Try to encourage activities such as reading or listening to music before bedtime instead of watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the Web.
  • Make sure children’s activities, including homework, can be completed without interfering with bedtimes. 

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