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Almost everyone has experienced a zombie-like feeling after a night of poor-quality sleep. Research shows that a single night of sleep deprivation can have a negative result on cognition and behavior.[1] Sleep deprivation for children can be particularly costly. Good quality sleep helps children with healthy brain development. That is why Dr. Bennett includes a whole lesson on how to protect your child’s sleep in her Connected Family Online Course. By following research-backed guidelines, setting sensible rules, and setting up your house to optimize learning and safety, your family can avoid costly digital injuries. If you prefer weekly 5-minute parent and family coaching videos covering these issues, Dr. Bennett’s GKIS App is made for you. In today’s GKIS article, you’ll discover how a child’s learning can be negatively affected by lack of sleep and how to avoid it.

How does lack of sleep impact a child’s learning?

Attention and Concentration

 A child needs an average of 9 to 11 hours of sleep each night for optimal health and learning performance.[2] Poor sleep affects the functional connectivity of the prefrontal cortex. This means that a sleepy child will experience problems in their ability to focus and sustain attention in a learning environment. Further, a 2009 study demonstrated that sleep may cause the child to become overly sensitized to reward stimuli.[3] An overly sensitized person craves rewards so much that if they can’t get the desired activity immediately, they may resort to acting out and tantrums. To understand more about this process, check out Dr. B’s whiteboard video GetKidsInternetSafe from Sensory Overload on the Dr. Tracy Bennett YouTube Channel.

Memory

Mental lapse refers to a moment of unexplained forgetting, like walking into the room and forgetting what you came in for. A sleepless night slows down brain cell activity, sometimes resulting in impairing daytime mental lapses. A 2017 UCLA study demonstrated that lack of sleep disrupts the brain cells’ ability to communicate with one another, resulting in a mental lapse that negatively affects the way we perceive and react to things around us.[4]

Learning and Information Processing

 In Dr. Bennett’s book Screen Time in the Mean Time, she explains that when we don’t get enough sleep our brain’s housekeeping and memory consolidation tasks remain undone, leaving us unable to efficiently acquire or retrieve information. Without good focus, attention, and memory, kids are unable to process information and understand and learn new concepts.

Creativity

 Sleep deprivation can also limit planning, creativity, and the ability to think outside of the box. According to a study from the University of Loughborough, sleep deprivation can negatively impact a person’s creativity by impairing one’s ability to create new ideas and change strategies.[5]

How does a lack of sleep impact mood and behavior?

Sleepy Throughout the Day

If your child chronically gets insufficient sleep at night, their body may compensate by falling into a pattern of daytime hypersomnia. This is a condition when someone repeatedly is falling asleep throughout the day.[6]

Mood Swings

Lack of sleep can be a main contributing factor in mood swings.[7] Moodiness and irritability can negatively affect relationships, leading to deeper problems and feelings of hopelessness. If sleep deprivation is habitual, it can contribute to clinical conditions like anxiety, depression, and even psychosis!

Decision-Making

Little to no sleep can also affect how well we make decisions.[8] That means that kids who have sleep deprivation will have a difficult time prioritizing tasks like when to brush their teeth or do homework. If your child seems to get stuck on even the smallest of choices, consider if sleep may be the issue.

How can lack of sleep affect learning children of different ages?

Teenagers tend to have more sleepless nights than younger children. Not only do parents allow later bedtimes for teens, but they also stay up chatting with friends and playing video games. Without the right amount of sleep, teens have more trouble focusing and learning in class compared to younger children. According to the CDC Healthy Schools, teens ages 13-18 need 8-10 hours of sleep.[9]

How can parents help their children get better sleep and improve their learning?

Tips from Dr. Bennett’s book, Screen Time in the Mean Time include:

  • Setting a timer
  • Keeping screens out of bedrooms
  • Creating a relaxing sleeping environment
  • Encouraging a soothing nighttime ritual
  • Practicing mindful eating
  • Exercising and practicing ample non-electronic play

For more tips on how to help your children get the rest they need, check out Dr. B’s GKIS article,  Do Your Kids Vamp? A GKIS Parent’s Guide to Good Sleep Hygiene.

Thanks to CSUCI intern, Maira Soto for researching this article on lack of sleep and learning.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.

Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

GetKidsInternetSafe

   Photo Credits

Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels

Photo by KoolShooters from  Pexels

Photo by  KoolShooters from  Pexels 

Photo by  Lisa Fotios from  Pexels 

Works Cited

[1] Davis, K. (2020, July 23). What to know about sleep deprivation?

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/307334

[2] How much sleep for children need?

https://www.webmd.com/parenting/guide/sleep-children#1

[3] The Sleep- Deprived Brain. Dana Foundation

[4] Study Blames Mental Lapses on Sleep-deprived Brain Cells

https://www.uclahealth.org/u-magazine/study-blames-mental-lapses-on-sleep-deprived-brain-cells

[5] Sleep Deprivation Kills Creativity

https://www.creativequarter.com/articles/life/sleep-deprivation-kills-creativity

[6] Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/excessive-daytime-sleepiness-hypersomnia/

[7] Improve Your Child’s School Performance with a Good Night’s Sleep

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/children-and-sleep/sleep-and-school-performance

[8] How sleep affects decision-making.

https://eachnight.com/sleep/how-sleep-affects-decision-making/

[9] Sleep in Middle School and High school students.

https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm#:~:text=The%20American%20Academy%20of%20Sleep,10%20hours%20per%2024%20hours

Maira Soto
Maira Soto
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