Sleep & School Grades: What’s the Connection?

Class is back in session and that means early start times, mounting homework assignments, and the hustle and bustle of extracurricular activities. After a summer full of lazy days and a lack of schedule, this transitional period can be tough for little ones and adults alike. Setting your kids up for a school year filled with adequate sleep is crucial to their success in and out of the classroom.

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According to the National Sleep Foundation, “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 a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, there was a high correlation between a lack of proper sleep and a low GPA for kids. The study also noted that getting less sleep on the weekends can also affect academic performance. Some good news though—a 2016 study out of McGill University found that “Elementary school-age children who improved their sleep habits also improved in their academic performance.”

Not only can insufficient sleep affect learning and behavior, but it can also lead to a higher risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Heather Miller, Director of LePage-Miller, Inc., an education firm and author of Prime Time Parenting tackles sleep issues in her debut book. She explains, “Children need a great deal of sleep; most need 10–12 hours. When they don’t get enough sleep, they can have great difficulty regulating their emotions. This can express itself as difficulty concentrating, behaving impulsively, getting very emotional over small conflicts, and even just falling asleep! The behaviors can resemble the symptoms of ADHD.”

The gold standards for getting more sleep

She says that there are two gold standards in getting your children the amount of sleep they need. The first is to set a bedtime and stick to it. “Children thrive with a predictable structure. When their bodies get used to falling asleep at the same time each night, they will naturally begin to feel tired as their bedtime approaches.”

The second is creating a 30-minute bedtime routine that you follow every night with your kiddos. She says, “Thirty minutes is a long time, but it really is necessary. During this half hour, children take their bath, brush their teeth and hair, change into pajamas, and read with a parent before getting tucked in. This leisurely pace helps the child to relax and unwind. When they feel sleepy, they are more likely to fall asleep! My advice is to tell Alexa or your alarm clock to ring 35 minutes before your child’s bedtime so that you can begin the bedtime routine on time.”

Getting more sleep benefits the whole family

You might even be guilty of experiencing your own sleep-deprived tantrum from time to time, proving that it’s not just the kids who perform poorly when lacking rest. Heather says that when it comes to adults, we tend to stress about minor issues and lose our tempers more easily without enough shut-eye. “A well-rested family is one that is much more harmonious; everyone manages stress better when well-rested. Additionally, members of the family are less likely to forget things like lunch or their wallet because their well-rested brains are more alert.”

The perks of putting the kids to sleep at an earlier hour also mean more time for yourself. Heather shares, “If your children are in bed around 8 p.m., you have a good two to three hours to connect with your partner, organize yourself for the next day, take a bubble bath, and do whatever you want. That makes parents so much more refreshed the next morning, which of course, helps their children.”

For many though, getting everything accomplished at night, including homework, dinner, bathtime, and beyond can be a challenge. That’s why Heather focuses on the idea of using the hours of 6:30–8:30 p.m. as the “prime time parenting” hours of the night. Since this time is to be dedicated solely to your kids, she suggests powering down the devices to be truly present and productive. “By focusing on your family, you reap the benefits of a rich and happy family life. Then around 8:30, you can turn the focus back to yourself and your partner, and enjoy some ‘me’ or ‘us’ time as well.”