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The Importance of Sleep for Learning

16 Jan 2018

We all know how important it is to have sufficient sleep, but sometimes on our busy days (that stretch to busy nights), we let slip the sleep-resisting child who might be up and about, way past his bedtime. How important is sleep – at least for the child’s cognitive development?

The Importance of Sleep for Learning
The brain acquires and recalls knowledge when one is awake, then consolidates learning when one is asleep.

As the new year has already rolled out in almost full force, new concepts, skills and knowledge are imparted to children in schools. Some parents would even enrol your children in enrichment classes to supplement their learning, such as the Creative Writer’s Toolbox at Mind Stretcher, where they would pick up writing skills, useful phrases and new vocabulary weekly – all beneficial for their writing.

As during the waking hours, one’s brain would work to acquire and recall what is learnt, sleep would assist greatly in the consolidation of that knowledge. In other words, without proper and sufficient sleep, a child would not be able to optimally understand, logically sequence, and ultimately apply what he has learnt.

The Importance of Sleep for Learning
Young children need their sleep to learn better.

Children who consistently sleep fewer than ten hours a night before the age of 3 are three times more likely to have hyperactivity and impulsivity problems by age 6. Symptoms of sleep-deprivation and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), including impulsivity and distractibility, mirror each other almost identically. In other words, tired kids can be impulsive and distracted even though they don’t have ADHD. For school-going children, research has shown that adding as little as 27 minutes of extra sleep per night makes it easier for them to manage their moods and impulses so they can focus on schoolwork. Children with ADHD also seem to be more vulnerable to the effects of too little sleep. Parents are almost three times as likely to report that their child with ADHD has a hard time falling and/or staying asleep than parents whose kids don’t have ADHD.

The Importance of Sleep for Learning
Naps can help young children learn better as well.

Sleep aids learning in kids of all ages, and education experts are finding that naps have a particular magic. Neuroscientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst taught a group of 40 preschoolers a game similar to Memory. Then the kids took a nap (averaging 77 minutes) one week and stayed awake the other week. When they stayed awake they forgot 15 percent of what they’d learned, but when they napped they retained everything. The kids scored better on the game not only after they’d just woken up but the next day too.

Making sure children get enough sleep isn’t easy, especially with parents working longer hours, more elaborate after-school activities, bedrooms full of cool electronic devices, and the pressure to pack more activities into every day. The simple fact is that children sleep less today than they used to. And unless we make an effort to get that sleep time back, their health will suffer.

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