Learning and learning disabilities have been a focus of intense research for pediatric medicine over the last several years. Although the best teaching methods for learning — and how best to use medications for learning disabilities remain open to debate — a child’s need for a good night’s sleep to optimize their ability to learn is a fact all educators can agree upon. Research from the early 2000’s showed that not only are most high school students not getting enough sleep, but they perform better in school when they are able to get as little as five or more extra hours of sleep per week.
School Start Times
As we go through adolescence, our body’s natural internal clock tends to favor a later sleep time and later wake time. This, combined with the value of more sleep in teens, leads to the conclusion that school start times for older students may need to be later to achieve both adequate sleep time and to optimize sleep quality.
It was shown in the Minneapolis Public School District that this could be achieved by delaying school start times to better coincide with older students’ natural sleep time.
Not surprisingly, this improvement in sleep was accompanied by improvement in attendance and enrollment rates, increased daytime alertness and decreased student-reported depression. Other studies have shown that when adolescences get more sleep they get better grades, reduce their risk of drowsy driving accidents and reduce risk of obesity and the metabolic and nutritional deficits associated with insufficient sleep.
Some sleep problems are more complicated than just bedtime and wake time. Obstructive sleep apnea, delayed sleep-phase syndrome and childhood insomnia are some of the pediatric sleep disorders for which children may need to be evaluated if they are not sleeping well.
“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.” – Homer
When we look to the future of sleep and learning we would be best served by making sleep a priority for our children. We need to promote the role a good night’s sleep plays in helping us maintain good physical and emotional health.
Robert Reyna MD, Medical Director of the Island Hospital Sleep Wellness Center (SWC) specializes in pediatrics and sleep medicine. The SWC is located at 1110 22nd St., Anacortes, and be contacted at (360) 299-8676.