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Why sleep is important for school success

Why sleep is important for school success

Like every school holiday, the February half term is a great opportunity for students to stay up as late as possible and not worry about getting a good nights sleep.

We don’t blame them: early starts can be cumbersome, early nights not as fun. However, unlike some of our friends in the animal kingdom such as the koala bear, which can sleep up to 20 hours a day, night sleeping is still very important for students for their academic success.

The ability to concentrate, focus, remember facts and solve problems are dependent on children and teenagers getting a consistent and quality amount of sleep. A 2015 study conducted by researchers at McGill University and the Douglas Mental Health University in Montreal, Canada, found a link between the academic performance of students and how well they slept at night in what they coin as ‘sleep efficiency’. The researchers found that children who had a good amount of quality sleep performed better in maths and languages whilst those that had a shorter amount or poorer quality are at risk of substandard academic performance. This was because, when learning maths and language skills, the prefrontal cortex of the brain is used and this holds the ‘executive functions’ – a set of cognitive processes that include the ability to pay attention, problem solve and plan amongst others. This area of the brain is highly sensitive to the effects of sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep.

Sleep also plays a role in the consolidation of memory which is vital for learning new information. Consolidation is the process by which a memory becomes stable. This takes place when one sleeps through the strengthening of neural connections that form memories. Whilst there exists no consensus about how sleep exactly makes this possible, researchers agree that is due to the specific characteristics of brain waves during the different stages of sleep.

All in all, sleep is an essential function for overall health and well being. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that school-age children (5 to 13 years olds) get 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night, and teenagers around 9 hours. If your child or teenager is getting less than that on a regular basis, it may be time for a bedtime re-assessment!

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