The Goods on Sleep
Are our students getting the sleep they need to learn? Find out.
We’ve all heard that an average night’s sleep is approximately eight hours...but that average is for adults, not school aged children and teenagers.
For teachers, sleep can be defined as necessary and vital to the memory storage process for learning to occur. Children between the ages of 3 and 6 need between 11 and 13 hours of sleep per night, ages 6 to 10 require approximately 10 to 11 hours of sleep and ages 11 to 18 years require nine and a quarter hours of sleep per night.
When we don’t meet these sleep needs ultimately it results in daytime sleepiness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, poor thinking, and an increased risk of accidents. In addition to those obvious signs, it affects the memory storage process which is condensed during sleep.
So what are some reasons our children are not getting enough sleep? For some students, it’s an earlier school start combined with the necessary morning routine.
Allowing time to get to school in the morning and pre-school day activities could mean that some teenagers are waking up at 5:30 am. After sitting through a grueling academic day, students then have athletics, social events, jobs, homework and downtime.
Let’s not forget technology: phones, text messaging, Facebooking, instant messaging. When you consider all these factors, the daily schedule of a teenager could compare to that of a CEO.
While it is more obvious in teenagers, younger children have a schedule that is just as full, especially with pressures to keep our children so busy with activities.
Add to the above the body’s daily biological rhythms known as circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms can best be explained as our body’s natural peaks and valleys. One of the circadian rhythms is in charge of our ability to focus on information coming in.
If you were to graph this rhythm in terms of ability to learn, pre-adolescents and adults would peak about 7 a.m. and be pretty steady through noon, dip from noon until about 1:00 p.m. and then have a second smaller peak about 2:00 p.m., then slowly teeter down until going to bed.
Adolescents are a bit different. Their first peak is about 8:00 a.m. and lasts until 1 p.m. They dip from 1 until 3 p.m., slowly rise and peak again at 4 p.m.
How do you make sure that your child is getting enough sleep? First of all, you must make up for sleep debt before getting a true number of necessary hours to sleep. To do this, turn off the alarm clock, pick a time to go to sleep daily and stick with it, waking up naturally. Do this for several days until the sleep debt has been paid off.
Then, keeping with the same bedtime, go to sleep and keep track of what time you wake up for a few days. This should be a true indicator of the number of hours of sleep your body needs. Sounds easy, right?
So why does all this matter in learning? During sleep, the body encodes information into long-term storage. But when your child gets five or six hours of sleep, the brain has less time to encode information for learning.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules. According to David Sousa in "How the Brain Learns," the brain can encode information while awake or even information that is more factual or effortless—like someone’s name.
Last week, I mentioned that reviewing information right before falling asleep. Right before falling asleep, that information is primed and basically waiting to be transferred into several compartments in the brain.
What can you do? Talk with your child about what sleep research says in terms of learning. Sleeping in till noon on Saturdays and Sundays is quite normal for teenagers—it’s their way of paying up the sleep debt.
On school nights, ask them to review their notes right before falling asleep. Then, turn off the phone, the computer, the iPod and just review the information.
Until next week, sleep tight!