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How does sleep affect children’s school test scores?

Despite the well known facts about the importance of sleep in child development, many kids these days don’t get nearly enough sleep. In fact, according to one international study conducted several years ago, Australian children are among the most sleep deprived in the world.

Children who don’t get the recommended amount of sleep tend to be tired, moody and more prone to mental health problems than those who do. However, if your kid is consistently undersleeping, you’re likely to get not only a moody teenager or an anxious second grader. Their academic performance will suffer as well.

Sleep is essential for brain development

The general guidelines are that school children up to the age of 13 should have 9-11 hours of sleep every night, and teenagers 14-17 should get between 8 and 10 hours. Young adults aged 18-25 should sleep 7-9 hours a night.

REM sleep, in particular, (also called dreaming sleep) is responsible for the person’s ability to store certain types of memory, as well as for internalizing complex mathematical concepts and general brain development.

Lack of sleep and academic performance

Not surprisingly, a number of studies have shown that the lack of sleep directly affects children’s test scores.

Researchers from Boston College (US) carried out an international comparison of the academic performance of 900,000 students in more than 50 countries while keeping track of the students’ sleep patterns. The study found that students who consistently got more sleep also achieved higher grades in maths, science and reading.

Primary school students raising hands to answer the teacher’s question.

“It’s the same link for children who are lacking basic nutrition,” said Chad Minnich, a researcher at the Lynch School of Education, Boston College, talking to BBC News.

In another study, researchers recorded sleep patterns of 621 first-year university students in Belgium, and later found that those students who had better sleep habits performed better on their exams. Specifically, the test scores of those students who slept at least seven hours per night were about 10 percent higher than those who didn’t get that much sleep.

Why exactly this difference? Because, according to one of the study’s co-authors Dr. Stijn Baert, quoted in Huffington Post, “new knowledge is integrated into our existing knowledge base while we sleep.”

What do we do?

If you’re a parent and this worries you, you’re right to be concerned. Test scores are, of course, important.

But the good news is that these negative effects can be reversed. If a child starts getting enough sleep on a regular basis (not just trying to catch up on sleep whenever possible), their learning outcomes will soon improve.

Most importantly, remember that if your child constantly misses out on sleep, poor test scores are just one symptom of a much bigger problem. Long term sleep deprivation translates directly into many serious health issues later in life.

Help them improve their sleep habits and you’ll be giving them a gift much bigger than the top score on their next math test.

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