Cerebral Hacks

Education & Learning

Can An Hour Less Sleep Responsible For Your Child’s Average Grades?

November 30, 2012 by Libby Laubscher in Education & Learning with 0 Comments

An hour less sleep can manifest in a two year attention and cognitive performance loss for a sixth-grader.

That’s what a study by Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Avi Sadeh shows. In a sample of sixth graders, Sadeh adjusted sleep schedules so there was, on average, an hour’s discrepancy between subjects in two groups of sixth graders. He had half of the subjects go to bed an hour earlier than their usual bedtimes, and half stay up an hour past their bedtimes.

Over time, subjects who were sleeping an hour more than their counterparts performed in line with expectations for sixth graders. Subjects who were sleeping an hour less than their counterparts performed cognitive tests at a level that was below fourth grade averages.

An hour less sleep can manifest in a two year attention and cognitive performance loss for a sixth-grader.

Sadeh’s study is not alone in showing the importance of sleep for children and adolescents. Studies show that as much as 15 minutes of sleep can have significant differences in test results.

Ironic, considering most of us have spent countless hours cramming for the final the next day rather than sleeping.

Who among us hasn’t laid in bed awake with facts and figures ordering themselves into logical sequences in preparation for the essay test the next day? Who hasn’t suffered from the anxious non-productive self-talk that keeps us awake into the night; “Just go to sleep, it’s going to be fine, stop thinking about it and just relax…?”

Unfortunately, as we mutter those self-soothing words in an effort to “turn off” and fall asleep, the research points in a different direction. It won’t be fine. The more sleep deprived we are, the lower the performance is going to be. And ironically, we are creating environments that are conducive to a loss of sleep just when our children’s biological functioning needs it most.

Should Schools Start In The Morning?

High schools in the U.S. typically are the earliest schools within a district to commence during the day. Middle schools start a bit later, and elementary schools are the latest to begin during the day.

In a way, this makes perfect sense.

For working parents, having elementary school children getting home later during the day is a way to curtail some of the costs associated with child care. The idea is that high schoolers can be home unsupervised without endangering themselves. (For some, this is debatable.)

The irony behind high schools starting earliest in the district is that there are biological changes that occur during adolescence that work in direct opposition to the daily start time.

Specifically, Sadeh found that melatonin, a hormone that signals the brain that it is time to sleep, is released later during the daily cycles of teenagers who are post pubescent. Therefore, although the adolescent still needs up to almost 10 hours of sleep a night, their brain is not signaled to rest until later in the day.

The school schedules forcing them to get up early means that teenagers are perpetually sleep deprived.

Ditch The Other Activities?

Activity loads also contribute to a depletion of sleep in both children and adolescents. We live in a society with tremendous performance expectations for our youth.

Not that heavy activity loads are necessarily a bad thing. Idle hands are the devil’s playground, so the saying goes. However, even amongst our younger populations, the activities are scheduled with very little consideration for appropriate bedtimes.

Baseball coaches simply do not insist that the league schedule the games for 9-year-olds so that they can be home in bed by 8:30 p.m. In fact, when games start later in the evening, more parents are able to show to the game, meaning higher dollars for the concession stands.

I have yet to hear a high school football coach review the academic schedules of his team members. Never have I heard, “I know you all have that big biology exam Friday, so let’s cut Thursday’s practice short.”

Sleep deprivation is worn as a badge of honor amongst high school populations.

In fact, sleep deprivation is worn as a badge of honor amongst high school populations. It is almost seen as a rite of passage. If you are getting enough sleep, you must be either lazy or not involved in enough activities to pad that college resume.

Think about it…the same holds true for those interns and residents we turn our lives over to at the hospital.

Naturally, there are all sorts of other issues that we contend with when we look at sleep issues. These issues are not exclusive to adults. Children suffer from anxieties that prevent them from sleeping. Many children deal with insomnia.

When asked, most doctors will call it a stage or a phase that will pass. As great as it is that these doctors aren’t concerned over the lack of sleep, you need to be concerned about your child’s inability to perform up to capacity. After all, as Sedah’s study shows, an hour of sleep can lead to a two year performance difference.

So What Do We Do?

How do we help our children stay on track? Well, first thing is to explain and encourage the regular sleep schedules of our children and adolescents. Lost sleep is lost sleep. There is no “catching up” on weekends.

The nightly restorative function of sleep in ongoing, and cannot be amended in a single acute sleeping session.

If possible, schedule the class periods to be free early in the morning for adolescents that are unable to fall asleep until close to midnight. Make arrangements with the school to let your adolescent come in later rather than have to sit in study halls. There is little benefit to trying to study in a sleep deprived state.

Try to find activities that cater to an earlier bedtime for children. If the school theater program holds practices until all hours of the night, perhaps join a local troop that practices on weekends during the day.

Turn off the electronics more than an hour before bedtime.

Provide an environment that is conducive to sleep. Keep it dark. Turn off the electronics more than an hour before bedtime. It’s hard to shut of those brain waves without time to decompress beforehand. Keep noise levels to a minimum or use white noise to block out distractions.

If your child is having sleep issues, don’t ignore them. Discuss it with doctors, nutritionists, and even local health food or homeopathic practitioners.

When my 9-year-old was having difficulty, we found a solution in turkey and a sleep sound machine. The tryptophan from just a few mouthfuls before bedtime was what he needed to stimulate the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can help induce a relaxed state and be converted into melatonin. The sleep machine blocks out the extraneous noises that would startle him awake.

Bedtime is no longer anxiety provoking.

He knows that during those bumpy times in his life when he can’t sleep, there is a solution that is only a refrigerator away.

About Libby Laubscher

Libby Laubscher is an avid learner with interests in psychology, neurology, and individual evolution. She enjoys writing and finds her musings often to be filled with paradox. She loves puzzles and considers the mind to be the greatest puzzle of all.

View all posts by Libby Laubscher →

Related Posts

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


About Cerebral hacks

Cerebral Hacks is all about how to leverage your greatest asset: your mind. We cover everything from psychology to nutrition to help you be smarter.
Recent Tweets
Join The Conversation