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Sleep and School Functioning
Sleep and School Functioning
By Karen Fritchley, Middle School Psychologist

Not getting enough sleep can significantly impact your child's academic, cognitive, behavioral, emotional and social functioning. A recent article in the Communique, published by the National Association of School Psychologists, outlined the importance of sleep to academic and behavioral functioning, citing that decreased sleep can place children at risk for problems with learning, memory, attention, aggression, depression and externalizing behaviors.

Sleep problems are relatively common, with as many as 25% of children exhibiting some sleep difficulty and more than 5% of children experiencing difficulty that is notable enough that a primary care provider has provided sleep treatment recommendations. Children who exhibit signs of excessive daytime sleepiness are very likely suffering from insufficient sleep.

Sleep recommendations indicate that children ages of three to five require 11-13 hours of sleep, children ages of six to twelve require 10-11 hours of sleep, and adolescents require between 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep.

A good understanding of your child's sleep habits can be obtained by answering a few questions about the routine that leads up to bedtime and may guide you to helping your child develop good sleep hygiene.

  • What happens in the 30-60 minutes before your child goes to bed?
  • What time is your child in bed and ready for sleep?
  • Consider the sleep environment – is your child co-sleeping, is the environment hectic, does your child have access to a television or electronics when in bed?
  • Does your child wake up in the middle of the night? If so, what does he do? What do you do?
  • Does your child snore?
  • Does anything bother your child when trying to fall asleep?
  • Does your child wake independently?

What Parents Can Do to Help Develop Good Sleep Habits

A consistent bed time begins with a good bedtime routine. The routine should consist of three to four relaxing activities that move in the direction of the bedroom. This routine might include taking a shower or bath, changing into pajamas, reading and getting into bed. About 52% of parents report that their children's bedtime and wake time vary significantly on the weekend vs. during the week; for these children, emphasizing consistency of bedtime and wake time may be especially important. A feasible wake time should be selected and enforced consistently, including waking no more than an hour later on weekends. When necessary, sleep schedules should be shifted earlier gradually (i.e. 15-30 minute increments) to prevent difficulty falling asleep.

Eliminating factors that hinder the sleep process is important for students who may not get sufficient sleep. Drinking caffeine in the afternoon or evening can contribute to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, so limiting caffeine could help. Limiting or eliminating the use of electronics before bed may also be an easy and effective way to improve sleep duration. Children who report having a television, tablet, smartphone or music player in their room that is "sometimes on" at night report getting 42-54 fewer minutes of sleep per night than children who do not have such devices in their rooms.

Physiological changes in adolescence lead sleep schedules to shift about two hours later, so it is likely that an even larger number of high school students receive insufficient sleep. Helping adolescents to fall asleep even 30-60 minutes earlier than usual may help many come closer to reaching the recommended amounts of sleep. Encourage your child to leave electronics in another room and to pick up a book and read before falling asleep.

Considering the significant impact of sleep on school functioning, behavior and social functioning, it is worth your effort to assist your child in developing good sleep hygiene. If sleep problems persist, regardless of your efforts to increase the quality and quantity of your child's sleep, you may need to consider talking with your child's primary care physician to determine if your child may be suffering from a sleep disorder requiring treatment. More information about healthy sleep and sleep concerns can be found at the website for the National Sleep Foundation.

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