If your child is having trouble in school, it may be time to look at your family’s sleep habits. To thrive academically, kids of all ages—preschool through college—need to have energy, the ability to focus, concentrate, retain information, and be creative problem solvers. Success at school also requires kids to control impulses and manage emotions and behavior to keep on track. All of these skills depend heavily on healthy, consistent sleep.
Across all ages, signs of sleepiness turn up as behavioral and learning difficulties. Children who seem excessively sleepy during the day are more likely to experience problems with learning, attention, hyperactivity, and conduct than kids who aren’t sleepy. Sleepiness causes problems with concentration and mood, and can even make it hard for students to stay awake in class.
In many cases, staying up too late is the culprit. In one experiment, children were asked to go to bed later than normal for a week, and then were asked to spend no fewer than 10 hours in bed for another week. During the week of later bedtimes, teachers rated these kids as having more academic problems and more attention problems (even though the teachers didn’t know they had had lost sleep). Many parents think their children go to bed early, but even 9:00 p.m. could be considered a late bedtime for an elementary school child.
As kids get older, sleepiness leads to slipping grades. For example, in a study of roughly 1,000 children and preadolescents, researchers measured kids’ sleep and school performance and found that poor sleepers (who had difficulty falling asleep and woke up at least once a night) were significantly more likely to have school achievement difficulties. In fact, one of the best predictors of school failure in the study was children’s fatigue (being difficult to arouse in the morning and falling asleep during the day). In another study of 3,000 high school students in New England, those who reported higher grades had significantly more sleep time and earlier bedtimes on school nights than those with lower grades. Students reporting B’s or better got 17-33 minutes more sleep on school nights and went to bed 10-50 minutes earlier than students with C’s and below. Students with lower grades also went to bed on average 2.3 hours later on the weekends than on school nights, compared to A/B students, who went to bed 1.8 hours later on the weekends. The same relationship has held true for college students as well.