Is Lack of Sleep Affecting Your Child's Performance in School?

If your child is complaining that he or she is tired each school morning, take heed: chances are good they're telling the truth. The fact is, a large percentage of American schoolchildren simply do not get the required amount of sleep they need to function properly. As one might expect, lack of sleep can be a major factor in how your child does in school.

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'Walking Zombies'

Is your child getting nine hours of sleep per night?

Nine seems to be the minimum requirement when it comes to hours of sleep for teenagers (and the National Sleep Foundation recommends 10 to 11 hours for children between five and 10 years old!). But children do not generally get anywhere near this number; in fact, studies show that kids of all school ages, including kindergartners, get up to an hour less of sleep each night as compared to 30 years ago.

Many people blame it on the overstimulation of computer games or TV. But whatever the culprit, children even as young as six and seven are simply not getting the sleep they need. According to a 2007 article in New York Magazine, 50% of adolescents get less than seven hours of sleep on school nights.

And in later years it gets even worse; as high school seniors, they average less than 6.5 hours of sleep each night. James Maas, a Cornell University sleep expert, told The Washington Post in March 2012, 'Every single high school student I have ever measured in terms of their alertness is a walking zombie.'

School Day-zzzzz

Lack of sleep can result in an inability to learn new material and negatively affect the quality of school work being completed. It can also lead to emotional instability. Depression and low self-esteem in teenagers, for instance, can be linked to sleep deprivation.

A 2011 study by the Autonomous University of Barcelona and Ramon Llull University, also in Barcelona, showed that nine to 11 hours of sleep resulted in optimal academic performance. Even an hour or two less than this showed an impact on basic skills such as reading comprehension and spelling, which could of course affect other areas of learning.

Dr. Avi Sadeh of Tel Aviv University concluded in a study of fourth- and sixth-graders that even a one-hour loss of sleep in a night equaled 'the loss of two years of cognitive maturation and development' (in other words, a sleep-deprived student's academic performance would be comparable to a student two years younger).

Early to Bed...

An astonishing 90% of parents actually believe their children are getting enough sleep. But if you've been convinced by the numbers discussed in this article, then you might now fall into the remaining 10%.

So what to do about it? Well, an established bedtime on school nights can certainly help (in 2010, a study by SRI International concluded that children with regular bedtimes performed better in subjects like reading and math as compared to those who went to bed at different times).

Try to get your child up at the same time each morning. You could also limit time in front of the computer and TV during school nights to allow your children to 'wind down' before going to bed. If your child is involved in several extracurricular activities, consider cutting back on a few of them. You could also trying cutting out caffeine intake later in the day and do not to allow them to nap when they get home from school, as this could keep them up for hours past their bedtime.

Remember: you spent the first few years of your child's life making sure they stuck to a schedule and got the sleep they needed, but as time went on you (like most other parents) likely shifted the emphasis away from these things. But by now you probably realize the importance of proper sleep. Your child's academic career just might depend on it.

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