LEARNING AND SLEEP

The most important gift we give to our children is education and, the most important task we give our children is learning. We send them to school for hours each day, fill up their free time with other kinds of learning (from homework to sports, music lessons, and tutoring), and measure their success by their grades. We don’t often spend enough time considering just how much their sleep affects their ability to learn. 

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While researchers still do not fully understand the mechanisms of sleep and memory in our brains, we’ve known for many years that sleep is where memories are consolidated; arguably, this is where the most important pieces of learning happen. One of the reasons children sleep longer than adults is to help their brains learn. In each stage of sleep, our brains consolidate different types of learning; every stage of sleep is crucial for learning. And it’s not just a certain amount of sleep that we need; the brain needs consolidated, uninterrupted sleep for learning and general health. Lack of sleep, as well as poor quality or fragmented sleep can affect learning in a profound way, as what happens with sleep apnea. 

Sleep researchers from the National Sleep Foundation (https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-polls) have found a direct correlation between sleep and performance in school; kids who get more sleep do better in school. 

SYMPTOMS

If your child is tired, it’s difficult for them to sit still. It’s hard for them to focus their attention. It may be hard for them to understand new ideas or concepts, and even though their behavior is hyperactive - kids overcompensate when they’re tired, as opposed to adults, who appear sluggish and sleepy - they may struggle to think through their actions or the logical consequences of their choices. 

If your child is struggling to pay attention in school or is fighting to keep their grades up, it’s important to look at the overall quality of their sleep. Are they getting enough hours in bed? Are they sleeping well during the night? No child should regularly snore, wake up repeatedly throughout the night, or complain of fatigue on a regular basis. 

Grades, of course, are just one expression of the kind of learning deficits that pediatric sleep specialists see in kids who are struggling with sleep disorders. Often, kids struggle with behavior problems, night awakenings, or may be struggling in school. Schools may be suggesting that the child has ADHD, or the child may be showing signs of depression. 

Sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and narcolepsy have been shown to directly affect performance in school. When sleep disorders are treated, kids consistently do better in school. Remember, no child should regularly snore, complain of being tired every day, or be difficult to wake at their normal time. 

Researchers believe that during sleep, we both stabilize our memories from short term to long term, stabilizing them for future recall, and consolidate memories around how to do things, like ride a bike or complete a math problem. 

When kids don’t get adequate amounts of sleep at night, either because of a disorder like sleep onset insomnia, where they struggle to get to sleep in the first place, or obstructive sleep apnea, where their breathing pauses and their sleep is interrupted at several points throughout the night, children’s brains may not properly process memories, meaning that all that hard-won learning is lost. 

It’s easy to see how learning difficulties could arise from either one of the sleep problems. Even if kids can muster the necessary energy to focus and concentrate, they can’t properly process their learning without a good night’s rest. 

HOW PRANA CAN HELP

If any of these problems arise, contacting a pediatric sleep specialist is your first step towards ensuring a great night of sleep for your child. Reach out to us today to begin the process.