For children, better sleep means better learning
Let me tell you a quick bedtime story.
It’s about a group of children, 74 of them, and they live in a land that’s far, far away. They are boys and girls. Some are just 7 years old and some are 11 and some are in between.
Every night they tried to get to sleep just a little bit earlier than they used to. For six weeks, they got an extra 18 minutes or so of sleep.
Can you guess what happened? Their grades went up.
OK, that’s not quite up there with a Harry Potter adventure, but it’s a story that should be of interest to parents.
Researchers at McGill University and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute really did study the sleep habits of 74 children at a school in Quebec.
Their study, published in the journal Sleep Medicine, showed that the children’s grades in English and mathematics improved after they were taught about how to better prepare for sleep. The lessons included a video about good sleep habits aimed at first- and second-graders and a board game-style chart that shows “Sleepy Steven’s Path to Success.”
“We found that cumulative average extension of five nights × 18.2 min = 91 min in total had a significant impact on report card grades,” says McGill professor and lead researcher Reut Gruber in a press release.
Attention Increases With Better Sleep Habits
The results match what Janelle Laudone, MD, a hospitalist in the pediatric department and ER at Cape Cod Hospital, sees every day.
“Children who get more and better sleep pay attention better and have better memories,” said Dr. Laudone. “If they get better sleep, they’ll get better grades.”
Laudone said school-aged children should get between nine and 11 hours of sleep a night. Some children need more than others, but too often, kids today aren’t getting enough sleep, she said.
“Overall, sleep has become more challenging because of the schedules of the children and the parents,” she said. “Our busy lives make it more difficult to get into bed at an earlier time.
“Kids are getting home from activities late and they want to spend time with their parents. Very appropriately they want to be part of the social family environment. Unfortunately that comes at the expense of sleep.”
Simple Steps to Dreamland
To help children get more and better sleep, Dr. Laudone recommends:
- No screen time for about an hour before bedtime. “That’s one of the biggest things. That means no TV, no computers, no tablets, no video games, no phones. The bright light from a screen can inhibit your natural production of melatonin and make it harder for kids – and adults – to fall asleep.”
- Stick to a bedtime routine. “The bedtime routine can be different for every child, but it might be a warm bath to relax them, followed by brushing their teeth and reading a story,” she said. “The bedtime routine should be no more than about 30 minutes, although some kids will want to drag that out.”
- Make the bedroom environment more conducive to sleeping. “The bed is only for sleeping. It’s not for video games or active play or homework. Keep the room quiet and dark, with maybe just a night light.”
- Get into bed at the same time every night. “That means keeping the bedtime the same for weekends and weeknights. As kids get older, they may want to stay up later on weekends and that may be appropriate, but keep their bedtime and wakeup time within an hour of weekdays. Otherwise they may shift their sleep phase and then be really tired come Monday morning.”
Sleep has a big impact on children’s overall behavior, according to Dr. Laudone.
“Well-rested kids can better manage stress, can better navigate social interactions with friends, and are overall happier and better adjusted.”
And that’s a true-life story.