Sleep and Learning
Sleep is essential for everyone, especially children and teens with developing brains. However, with the ever-increasing popularity of smartphones and early school start times, almost everyone is sleep deprived. This may be affecting your student in ways you don’t even realize. So why is sleep so important and how can we help our students get more of it?
In this post, we’ll discuss why sleep is so essential for academic success. We will also give you 8 better sleep tips, ranked from the simplest changes to those for families most committed to a good night’s sleep.
In order to learn anything, we need to have memory skills. You can think of memory as three basic phases:
Acquisition ➔ Consolidation ➔ Retrieval
Input ➔ Processing ➔ Output
New info ➔ Making that info stick in the brain ➔ Recalling/using that info
Sleep affects all three of these phases.
With too little sleep, modulating your attention becomes difficult. Because of this, it may be harder to pay attention to the teacher and accurately acquire the new information. With too little sleep, the brain cannot achieve a deep sleep, which is where the brain consolidates new information and makes it stick in your memory. Since this consolidation has been interrupted, you may not be able to recall the correct information or any of the new information the next day, which is a failure in memory retrieval.
If your child struggles to focus and sustain their attention, this is greatly worsened by an insufficient amount of sleep. If you’re thinking about pulling an all-nighter to prepare for an important meeting, this will sabotage your brain’s ability to save and recall all that new information you’re trying to cram in.
So you need a good night’s sleep – great! How do you go about doing that? Let’s talk about 8 better sleep tips, starting with those easier to implement:
Limit caffeine intake, especially with pre-adolescents
Children should not need caffeine to keep them focused during the day. If your child relies on caffeine to wake up, something is going wrong with their sleep. With the proper quantity and quality of sleep, none of us should need caffeine to function.
Caffeine can hide in kid-centric foods like soda and chocolate. Be wary of these after school and especially before bed.
Exercise during the day, at least 1 hour for kids
The more tired the body is, the easier it will be to fall asleep. Even if the mind is going a million miles an hour, a tired enough body will allow you and your children to fall asleep.
With all the sports and physical education our kids participate in, it will hopefully be easy to make sure your kids get at least 1 hour of exercise per day.
No exercise or intense play 2-3 hours before bed
As much as exercise is needed during the day, it’s a bad idea before bedtime. Physical activity is stimulating and energizing – exactly what you don’t want for your kids right before bed.
Try to end horseplay and sports practices at least 2 hours before bedtime. This will make sure that exercise has tired them out and not pumped them up.
Get a full night’s sleep
The number of hours of sleep children and adults needs varies with age.
- Preschoolers need 11-13 hours plus naps during the day.
- Elementary schoolers need 9-11 hours per day.
- Teenagers and adults need at least 8 hours of sleep per day.
We all have busy schedules. Whenever possible, it’s important that bedtime occurs early enough for your child to get a restful amount of sleep before the morning routines begin.
Bedtime wind-down routine
Routines are wonderful. They comfort children (and adults) with a sense of predictability and normalcy. If you don’t have a family bedtime routine yet, we highly recommend you make one. Ask your children what will best help them fall asleep. Is it reading a book, a relaxing bath, a soothing massage?
Make a visual chart of your bedtime routine, using words and/or pictures for each activity with the times they will be done. Do these same activities in the same order and at the same time every day.
Here are some possible bedtime routine activities:
- Put away toys
- Pick out clothes for tomorrow
- Check backpack for things needed tomorrow
- Brush your teeth
- Comb your hair
- Put on pajamas
- Bedtime story
- Relaxing massage
- Cup of caffeine-free tea
- Turn on the white-noise machine
- Close the window curtains/blinds/shutters
- Cuddle time
- Tell each other a story
- Talk about your day
Wake and fall asleep at the same time every day, including weekends
Once you’ve established your amazingly relaxing bedtime routine, it’s important to stick to it even when you don’t need to. Your body loves routine because it helps regulate your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural sleep cycle.
Try not to deviate your wake-up and bedtimes by more than 1 hour. If you throw your bedtime routine out the window on weekends, it only makes Mondays more difficult for the whole family.
No screen time 1-2 hours before bed
Remember that circadian rhythm? This has a lot to do with light. The body takes cues from sunlight to tell it when to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep. The sun is up, it’s light outside, no melatonin needed. The sun is down, it’s dark outside, here comes the melatonin. But with fire, gas lamps and now electric lighting, our environmental cues can mess with our melatonin production.
Light of any kind can disrupt our melatonin production and sleep cycle. Blue light specifically (from smartphones, TVs, tablets, computers, energy-efficient LED lighting and those festive Christmas lights hanging outside your window or on your Christmas tree) can dampen melatonin more powerfully than any other light. This is why turning the screens off at least 1 hour before bedtime is crucial for restorative sleep.
Use bedrooms for sleeping only
If you want the most restful, most reliable sleep, you want to use your bedroom for sleeping only. No desk for homework. No toys for playtime. No smartphones for your morning alarm. No TV. No tablets. Just a bed and you.
This helps your bedtime routine be more efficient. You don’t see your room as a place to play, do homework and also sleep. It’s for sleeping, period. Every time you go to your room, it is to sleep. No distractions or other associations can muddy those sleepytime waters.
We hope this has shed some “non-blue light” on the subject of sleep.
Comment below: What does your bedtime routine look like? How hardcore is your family about their sleep schedule?