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Education Nation

Commentary: It Takes Healthy Living - Sleep

Deep sleeping children girl closeup portrait on pink pillow TONO BALAGUER

What does it take to get a student through school and ready to succeed in college, career and beyond? While you might think it’s extra tutoring and being a tiger mom or dad—guess again! It’s simply having kids pay more attention to adequate sleep.

Here’s the bottom line: for full alertness, energy and well-being, adolescents need 9.25 hours of sleep every night, but average 6.1.

What difference does it make if your kids are sleep deprived?

Here’s a rundown:

Emotional: Without sleep, students get moody. They’re more vulnerable to irritability, anxiety, and depression.

Physical: Those who sleep six hours or less each night raise their susceptibility to viral infection by 50 percent compared to those getting adequate rest. And, a six-hour sleeper is 23 percent more likely to be obese than an eight- or nine-hour sleeper.

Mental: Better quality sleep and more efficient sleep may lead to higher grades, especially in math.Without adequate sleep, alertness, concentration, memory, productivity, perception, and the ability to think critically and creatively and to multitask are all significantly impaired. It’s also difficult to assimilate and analyze new information and communicate effectively. Unfortunately, these are the skills needed in order to manage and balance an increase in homework, social activities, and everyday stressors.

Here is how researchers have found sleep to affect academic performance:

•Mary Carskadon at Brown University found that students who slept 17-33 minutes more than their peers each night increased their performance by an entire letter grade.

•Adolescents who sleep 9 hours have significantly better grades than those who sleep 6, have fewer learning difficulties, and are tardy less often.

•A sleep study of 450 students I conducted at Cornell, along with my colleagues Rebecca Fortgang and Rececca Robbins, found a significant correlation between total amount of sleep and academic performance, and an even more significant correlation between grades and amount of deep sleep.

•Students struggling or failing in school (getting grades ranging from C to F) obtain about 25 minutes less sleep and go to bed an average of 40 minutes later on school nights than students getting A and B marks. They also report more variation in weeknight versus weekend sleep schedules.

Although it is difficult to isolate causation in any of these assessments, the evidence does suggest that sleep deprivation is strongly associated with lower academic performance.

It may seem difficult to turn off the lights, especially at 11:00 PM when kids still have a ton of homework and all their friends are texting, but after sixteen hours, the quality of their work is essentially worthless anyway. By getting adequate sleep, kids will be in a better mood while being more efficient, effective, and productive. They will find it easier to get everything accomplished.

Sleep should be a priority for children, because it sets the tone for the rest of their life.