Sleepy Students Perform Worse in School

The start of another school year is just around the corner! Transitioning from the freedom of the summer to a rigid school year schedule can be tough, especially when it comes to sleep. But research suggests that making sure your children get the rest they need is more important than ever while school is in session. In fact, children who get adequate amounts of sleep actually perform better academically than sleep-deprived children. 

School Year Sleep in Children and Teens

Research shows that students who are adequately rested have higher grades and score higher on tests. 

Sleep Improves Academic Performance

Brazilian researchers1 studied children aged seven to ten who attended public schools. They found, on average, kids with sleeping problems performed more poorly in both math and language than well-rested students:

  • 13% of children with difficulty sleeping had failing grades in Portuguese, compared to 8% of those without sleep problems.
  • 25% of kids with disrupted sleep had failing math grades, versus 8% of children without trouble sleeping.
  • Mean test scores in both subjects were lower for the poor-sleep group than the well-rested group.

Another telling study2 found that when children with sleep-related breathing disorders, like sleep apnea, were treated for their condition, their academic performance improved significantly. Researchers tested the bottom 10th percentile of a 1st grade class and found that an astonishing 18% of them had sleep-disordered breathing. That’s compared to the estimated 2-3% that have childhood sleep apnea overall. When the affected students were treated for their sleep disorders by having a tonsillectomy to remove enlarged tonsils (a common cause of sleep apnea in children), their mean grade point average rose by nearly half a point (from 2.43 to 2.87). Clearly, sleep apnea significantly reduces academic performance in affected grade-school-aged children.

When talking about sleep in children, we are often tempted to talk exclusively about sleep duration. But researchers are quick to emphasize that sleep quality is actually more important than sleep quantity. One study3 showed that factors like mood, behavior, and sleepiness were more closely related to quality than quantity. This means that it’s not enough to make sure that children are getting enough sleep, but we also have to make sure that they are sleeping soundly

Sleep Deprivation in American Students

Students not getting enough sleep is a widespread problem in American schools. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2014 Sleep in America poll4one quarter of parents estimated that their children get at least an hour less of sleep on school nights than they need. 

Sleep deprivation is especially common among teens. During adolescence, teens are biologically programmed to want to stay up late and wake up late; they are natural “night owls”5. Often, teens have trouble falling asleep until late in the evening because they just don’t feel sleepy early at night, even when they have to wake up early every day to get to school on time. This phenomenon has inspired some doctors and parents to push for later start times for schools in the hopes that being able to get up later will allow teens to fit more hours of sleep into their schedules. 

Other factors contributing to the lack of sleep in kids include erratic bedtime hours, overly busy schedules, anxiety (school or home), dietary practices, and electronics and distractions.

How to Prepare Your Child for School-Night Sleep Schedules

Here are some tips for how to make sure that your child is getting enough sleep during the school year and doing their best work in school! 
  1. Know how much sleep your child should be getting. Sleep duration guidelines vary significantly by age during childhood and adolescence. Reference these guidelines to see how many hours per night you should be aiming for. 
  2. Set a consistent sleep schedule that makes time for enough sleep. Having a regular bedtime and wake-up time (even on the weekends!) can improve sleep quality, plus it makes sure that you’re building enough sleep time into your child’s schedule. Figure out when your child needs to wake up, and set a regular bedtime early enough that they get all the rest they need. 
  3. Prepare for that rough reintroduction. Most likely, your child hasn’t been following the same sleep schedule over the summer that (s)he does during the school year. Read our list of 9 tips for how to get your kid ready for back-to-school bedtimes.
  4. Notice if your child’s sleep is disrupted. Children can get sleep disorders too, and they can negatively impact their behavior, development, and, clearly their academic performance. If your child snores, doesn’t sleep soundly, or shows other symptoms, it’s very important to talk to a doctor and perhaps have them tested for a sleep disorder.

Request a sleep study

Sources: 

  1. Luciane Bizari Coin de Carvalho, et al. “Symptoms of sleep disorders and objective academic performance.” Sleep Medicine Journal. 
  2. Gozal, David M.D. “Sleep-Disordered Breathing and School Performance in Children.” Pediatrics.
  3. Pilcher, June J. et al. “Sleep quality versus sleep quantity: Relationships between sleep and measures of health, well-being and sleepiness in college students.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 
  4.  “2014 Sleep in America┬« Poll: Sleep In The Modern Family–Summary of Findings.” National Sleep Foundation. 
  5. Crowley, Stephanie J. et al. “Sleep, circadian rhythms, and delayed phase in adolescence.” Sleep Medicine.

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