Inadequate sleep is often the overlooked culprit for learning problems and poor behavior in school. According to the National Academy of Sleep Medicine, school aged children need anywhere from 8-12 hours of sleep per night. When a child doesn’t have adequate sleep, memory, mood and concentration are affected.
Sleep is an intricate part of the learning process. During sleep, the brain solidifies what it has learned that day. There is an increasing amount of scientific proof that lack of sleep affects the brain negatively. Most of us can attest to feeling foggy, irritable and unable to concentrate well if we don’t get enough sleep. The brain actually serves as a type of filter that cleans out toxins while you sleep. Without enough sleep, the toxins remain in the brain, leaving little room for new information to flow in. Matthew Walker, U.C. Berkley’s Director of Sleep Science states “When we compared the effectiveness of learning between the two groups, the result was clear: There was a 40 percent deficit in the ability of the sleep-deprived group to cram new facts into the brain (i.e., to make new memories), relative to the group that obtained a full night of sleep.”
If your student takes a down turn from being a top performer, their sleep patterns should be examined. According to author Eric Barker, “Take an A student used to scoring in the top 10 percent of virtually anything she does. One study showed that if she gets just under seven hours of sleep on weekdays, and about 40 minutes more on weekends, she will begin to score in the bottom 9 percent of non-sleep-deprived individuals”.
The largest causes of sleep deprivation seem to be computer or cell phone use for social media. Not only are students staying up too late, but many are going to bed with their cell phones within a too close proximity (i.e. on their pillows). If the cell phone or computer “dings” it can interrupt their sleep; and if they then begin to look at their screens again, their sleep pattern is interrupted further.
Getting to sleep is often a matter of routine- slowing down, turning away from “screens” at least 30 minutes prior to trying to sleep, relaxing and getting comfortable. Anxiety also causes us to stay awake, so learning how to relax through meditation exercises can be helpful. If that doesn’t work, try closing your eyes and listening to a non-stressful podcast (i.e. a Ted Talk) or calming music- but be sure to set an automatic sleep timer so it doesn’t wake you later.
The Week magazine recently published some useful tips on how to get back to sleep once you’ve been awakened: Don’t check the time; stay away from the phone; take a break from trying to sleep (read, stretch); and do some deep breathing exercises. The bottom line is, uninterrupted and quality sleep is not only necessary for our health, but also our brains.
Stay tuned for more learning articles in the weeks to come!