Better sleep = better learning

October 15, 2013

Do you have students who seem to forget everything they learned the day before? There are a variety of reasons why students do not retain learning. One that is often overlooked is lack of regular, good quality sleep. 

Poor sleep patterns impact both on learning and wellbeing.  Recent research shows that 65% of Grade 4 students are regularly sleep deprived, and by adolescence only 11% of Australian teenagers are getting the minimum recommended amount of sleep.

These alarming statistics help to explain why many students are not able to concentrate effectively on instructions or learning tasks. Students with poor sleep habits will also make mistakes, be moody, ‘act out’, display challenging behaviour, and some may suffer from other psychological issues.

Sleep allows the brain to process and store what has been learnt during the day into long term memory. The  ability to solve novel complex solutions is enhanced three-fold after good sleep. Whereas, the ability to learn new tasks is diminished without a good night of sleep.

How can teachers help to redress students’ sleep issues? There are several options.

1. Educate the child and promote independence and sensible decision making around bedtime.

2. Educate the parents. Encourage the establishment of set bedtimes and routines via newsletters, information nights or meetings. The following may aid discussion with parents.

Ensure the student has a set bedtime that allows for 8-12 hours of sleep per night. The foundation for healthy sleep patterns are set by having a routine of going to bed and waking at the same time each day, allowing for the recommended amount of sleep for the child’s age. For example a 12 year old who wakes at 7am should be in bed asleep with the lights out by no later then 9pm.
No electronic devices in the bedroom at bedtime. This includes phones, tablet devices, personal gaming devices, computers, TVs. The blue light emitted by these devices has been found to delay the bodies natural sleep rhythms (circadian rhythms). No screens should be allowed once the child is in bed, and ideally electronic screen should be switched off two hours before bed, or at least an hour to minimise the impact on sleep. Some families have a ‘charging’ station in the living room where all devices ‘sleep’ and recharge for the night.
Check your child’s diet and exercise routine. Excess sugar and caffeine can make going to sleep difficult. Children who have difficulty falling asleep should not consume food or sugary or caffeinated drinks in the late afternoon or evening. Children who don’t get enough exercise during the day, or too close to bedtime may have trouble falling asleep. If your child has trouble sleeping increase the level of physical activity during the day by joining an after school sports program, or simply by walking to school, or playing in or running around the local park or your backyard.

3. Change the school hours or the structure of the curriculum to mirror the sleep patterns of older adolescents or accommodate younger students who are not getting enough sleep. While this has been somewhat successful in some senior secondary schools, it may not completely solve the problem.

NOTE. Inability to sleep well can have many causes. If the student is tired most of the time they may need to be referred to their GP or the school psychologist/counsellor to further investigate the cause of their sleep issues.

Is poor sleep an issue for some students at your school?

What are your thoughts on this issue?

For further strategies to help children and adolescents fall asleep, Psych4Schools members can access our Members Forum or alternatively request us to make a parent presentation in your school.