We don’t often consider that the reason for a child’s poor academic performance and misbehaviour at school may be sleep deprivation.  It is fundamentally important that all school aged children enjoy a restful, sound sleep to help prepare them for a busy day of learning.  Sleep deprivation, which can be due to poor sleeping habits or excessive extracurricular activities, can interfere with, or reduce a child’s much needed hours of deep sleep, and can seriously affect a child’s learning potential as they struggle to stay awake and focus during classes.

Students who are overly tired may develop a dislike for a subject or their teacher, falling into a cycle of poorer grades, and become frustrated with school and homework expectations. Numerous studies link inadequate or disruptive sleep patterns to lowered student achievement, aggressive behaviour, learning and memory problems, and obesity. Sleep‐deprived students can be restless, irritable, and impulsive, and risk being labelled ADD or ADHD. Researchers have noted a strong correlation to poor self‐esteem, and even links to emotional disorders including anxiety and depression due to lack of sleep.  If a child is not doing well in school, his/her sleep patterns should be investigated to rule out sleep deprivation as a possible cause.

The following activities can significantly interfere with a child’s ability to fall into a deep and restful sleep:

a) Participating in intense physical activity before bedtime, including exercise and sports, makes it difficult for the body to relax sufficiently to enter into a restful state.

b) Gazing at computer or TV screens keep the brain in a ‘wide‐awake’ mental state. The flashing and ‘sparkle’ effect of TV commercials are designed to keep the brain awake and ‘on alert’.

c) Playing violent, action‐packed programs and video games shock the body, flooding it with toxic chemicals which have been generated by one’s emotional response to frightening images or story lines, keeping the body wide awake and ‘on alert’.

d) The use of all electronic media, including television, computers, and handheld devices, emit EMF waves (electromagnetic fields), and can have a negative effect on sleep patterns and weaken the immune system.

e) Family stresses (shouting, fighting, loud music and noises) can keep a child in an agitated state, making it difficult to fall asleep.

Adult sleep patterns can also be influenced by these activities.  The majority of adults function well below performance potential due to insufficient sleep, resulting in inefficiencies, careless errors, and accidents both at home and in the workplace.

Younger children benefit from more sleep and older children require less. For example, infants require 14-15 hours, toddlers 12–14 hours, preschoolers 11‐13 hours, school aged children 10‐13 hours, and teenagers 9‐10 hours. Adolescents who are growing rapidly, or are involved in active sports activities, require more sleep.

To wake up refreshed, the body must reach a deep REM sleep level (rapid eye movement), where the body is sufficiently relaxed (beta brain wave lengths) to begin repairing and healing the body systems.  Sleep medications prevent the body from reaching the healing REM state, often resulting in a groggy feeling the next morning.  One effective alternative is to eat a banana just before retiring, as the potassium in the banana helps to support healthy sleep.

It is recommended that families plan electronic and homework activities for earlier in the evening. Slow the evening down further with a little creative or quiet playtime, progressively lowering the room lighting, and end with a bath and story time. Join your child for evening prayers or set intentions for the next day, and send your child off to sleep with a kiss and a hug, telling them they are special and greatly loved.

The room should be sufficiently darkened to keep outside lights from disturbing the child’s sleep. If a child needs the comfort of some light source, try slowly reducing it over time.

When a child feels safe, secure, protected, and loved, sleep and a healthy dream state is easily within reach. A healing night’s sleep, which recharges the body and the soul, provides the very best foundation of success the following day.

Linda Sweet M.S. Ed.

Founder and Director, Glenburnie School

Providing a progressive, innovative private school education