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How Does Sleep Affect Academic Performance?

Parents always advised us to get a good night’s sleep before the final exam or any important test. If you listened to that advice, it is certain that tomorrow your concentration was at a higher level and the result was better.

Many studies conducted in the last decade show that night’s sleep is more important for academic performance than we originally thought. 

This certainly doesn’t just apply to the night before the exam. While this is also important, regular good night’s sleep is crucial.

The brain develops until the mid-to late 20s, and scientists believe that brain development does not end until the 40s. In any case, the brain develops most in children and adolescents. Even when it stops growing in size, it continues to mature. 

Night’s sleep is of utmost importance for brain development and thus for memory, attention, and focus. Many children and adolescents in the UK do not get enough sleep and that is a huge problem. 

We decided to thoroughly analyze the impact of sleep on academic performance to point out the significance of this topic.

Table of Contents
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    How much sleep do teens and youngsters need?

    Newborns sleep almost all day. Sleep duration in infants is about 15 hours a day, while toddlers sleep about 2 hours shorter on average. In each subsequent developmental phase until primary school, children sleep shorter and shorter.

    Children in primary school should sleep between 8 and 12 hours. It is not possible to determine exactly how much, because many factors affect a child’s need for sleep, including genetics. Although you may think that children should sleep longer than teenagers, this is not true.

    An image of a girl sleeps on desk after studying.

    In many cases, teenagers need more sleep than children and therefore should also sleep 8 to 12 hours. During the teenage period, they have more and more demanding obligations at school. High school students also go through mental and emotional maturation experiencing many things for the first time. In order to develop mentally, but also to avoid being anxious and depressed, teenagers need to have adequate sleep. However, statistics show that more than 30% of teenagers and children in the UK sleep less than 8 hours which have detrimental consequences.

    What are the effects of lack of sleep?

    In the long run, insufficient sleep and poor sleep quality will negatively affect the development of the brain in children and teenagers. In the short term, school performance will suffer. When they do not get enough sleep, school achievement will not be realistic because the following problems will be present.

    It is possible to experience virtually any mental-related problem, and even physical as a result of sleep deprivation. When we say sleep deprivation, we do not mean three hours of night sleep, but anything less than 8 or 9 hours for a few days in a row.

    An image of a woman in socks on bed drinking tea.

    Decreased attention

    Attention must be at the highest possible level so that children can master everything that the school program requires of them. Teenagers can struggle with concentration anyway, and lack of sleep makes the situation even worse. If you notice that your child cannot keep his attention, consider whether he is getting enough sleep. If he sleeps enough, then you need to find another reason for decreased attention and poor academic performance.

    An image of A handsome sleepy Asian woman.

    Slow processing

    Adults also occasionally encounter slowed processing, usually after a night out and alcohol consumption. Lack of sleep has a similar effect on children and teenagers. They will not be able to draw conclusions quickly, which is crucial to pass the exam. When sharpness is reduced, the child will feel that he or she is not up to the task and this can cause insecurity.

    an image of a sleepy woman

    Poor memory

    Some very important things for the brain take place during sleep. The two most important are cleaning up waste products and storing learned information. When cerebrospinal fluid clears the brain, mental sharpness in the morning will be at a high level. It has also been proven that if person sleeps well after studying, all the information stays “engraved” in brain for a long time.

    An image of a young woman feeling sleepy after the workout.

    Less creativity

    Memorizing different data is not the only point of schooling. It is important to develop creative thinking and include creativity whenever possible in problem solving. Poor sleep reduces creativity by up to 50 percent, one research showed. Even if the child manages to remember what is important, it will be by heart without any creativity.

    Daytime sleepiness

    Sleep debt can happen to anyone, not just adults. When sleep debt accumulates, then sleepiness occurs during the day. A child can even be punished at school if he or she falls asleep in class or because of a noticeable lack of attention, while the cause is actually a lack of restful night’s sleep. If the professor tells you that the child has a behavior problem, before you take him or her to the psychologist, find out if sleep may be the culprit.

    Aggression & irritability

    Aggression is not uncommon in children and teenagers. The cause may be a lack of self-confidence, violent video games or an adopted pattern of behavior they have seen somewhere. As you know from personal experience, sleep deprivation affects mood. Every child will be irritable if he or she does not get enough sleep. Those children and teenagers who have an additional tendency to aggression will express more severe symptoms.

    An image of an agresssive young girl.

    Anxiety & depression

    Anxiety is part of almost everyone’s maturation. Unrequited love, physical appearance and failure at school are just some of the triggers for depression and anxiety. This does not necessarily mean that a person will be prone to depression and anxiety later in life. It can be just a stage during one period. However, lack of sleep is clearly associated with a higher risk of depression and anxiety.

    Hyperactivity

    Hyperactivity is a term that brings together many different behaviors that children exhibit. Constant activity, impulsiveness, aggressiveness and many similar behaviors can be considered hyperactivity. Drastic form is diagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and the symptoms are harder to control when a person is sleep deprived.

    An image of a little boy with painted hands.

    What are the reasons behind poor sleep?

    To be able to help your child improve night’s sleep, you first need to determine the cause. In adults, the reasons behind poor sleep are usually much more complex and there are a number of potential causes. In children, you should pay attention to sleep hygiene and abuse of electronic devices first, and then check with the doctor if the child may be suffering from a sleep disorder.

    Inadequate sleep hygiene

    Sleep must be a priority, but not just half an hour before bedtime. Everything a person does during the day has a positive or negative impact on night’s sleep. This includes the time when food is consumed, the type of food consumed, drinking water, physical activity and much more. That’s why both adults and kids need to think about their sleep hygiene. Since children are not aware enough to take care of sleep hygiene, then it is up to the parents.

    Inconsistent sleep schedule

    The big mistake many parents make is failing to establish a sleep schedule for their child. Most parents take care of the sleep schedule only when the children are very young, and later believe that the child alone should determine when to sleep. If you allow a teenager to be up all night and then sleep until noon or go to school after just a few hours of night sleep, this will lead to many health problems.

    Overuse of electronic devices

    Electronic devices are all around us and that is something we cannot avoid. Banning a teenager from using a smartphone and other devices would have a significant negative impact on his or her social life. Yet this does not mean that the child should spend hours using devices every day. The blue lights that the devices emit are especially harmful an hour or two before bedtime, so do not buy TV for kids room.

    Various sleep disorders

    Almost all sleep disorders that affect adults can affect children as well. About 10% of children and adolescents in the UK suffer from insomnia, which is the most common sleep disorder. Smaller percentage of kids but still significant amount of them experience symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Sleepwalking and nightmares are relatively frequent too. Obese children are at risk of developing sleep apnea.

    How to make kids sleep on time?

    There are many ways you can make kids sleep on time and thus improve their academic performance. Most ways are quite simple to implement into a daily routine, and will have a positive impact not only on academic performance but on overall mental and physical health. In case the child suffers from sleep disorder, then it is necessary to involve a specialist in the treatment. In other cases the following steps should solve most or all of the sleep-related problems.

    Set up the clear bed time pattern

    Try to establish a clear bedtime pattern for your child since the day one. If a child in 99% of cases goes to bed at the same time, then it will be easy for him to stick to that pattern even when he grows up and becomes a teenager. However even if you failed to establish routine during early childhood, it is never too late, start now.

    An image of a young asian mother with her daughter in bed preparing for sleep.

    Have a relaxing session before bed time

    When you are stressed and anxious it is almost impossible to fall asleep quickly and have a good night’s sleep. The same is the case with children. Although their problems may seem irrelevant to you, for them it is something of a major importance. So try to relax them by telling them a story or reading a book, depending on their age. That will help them fall asleep and prevent nightmares.

    An image of a grandmom reading a book to her grandchild before sleep.

    Consistent wake up times

    It is equally important to keep wake up times consistent. Of course, the child will sleep half an hour or an hour longer on weekends, and the teenager after attending the party, but the difference between wake up times during the week should not be significant. If the wake up time is one day at 8 AM and the next day at 11 AM then the sleep patterns cannot be consistent either.

    how to wake up relaxed and happy

    Make sure you kids feel safe at night

    To make your child feel safe at night and in general it is not enough just to lock the door and install cameras. A child’s sense of security is generated from a harmonious family relationship. Then the children’s room should be adjusted to the child’s needs and wishes. That way the child will consider that space as safe haven.

    an image of a night light for a kid on a wall

    Arrange the adequate lights in bedroom

    Fear of the dark is not unique to children, but is something that is generally rooted in the human species. If you notice that your child is afraid of the dark, the best option is to buy one of the lights for kids. It will make the room bright enough so that the child is not scared, without a negative effect on the secretion of melatonin, which can result in poor night’s sleep.

    An image of multiple light sources in bedroom.

    Make sure they get enough sunlight throughout the day

    Both adults and kids spend too little time in the sun. The sun and spending time outside is necessary for all the functions in our body to be able to happen properly. Without enough vitamin D, motor development is slowed down, and vitamin D is generated in our body when we are exposed to the sun. That’s why it’s important to encourage your child to be physically active, especially during the warmer months when he or she can be outdoors.

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