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Are Your Students Sleep Deprived?

The problem of sleep deprivation in adolescents is well documented. But what about sleep deprivation in younger students? Is a lack of sleep interfering with your students' learning? Education World recently talked with two experts about the effects of sleep deprivation on elementary school students. Included: Resources on the importance of sleep to share with students and parents.

"Studies looking at kids in kindergarten through third or fourth grade show that 85 percent [of kids in those grades] are not meeting their nightly sleep requirements," James B. Maas told Education World. Maas, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, is the author of two books about sleep, Power Sleep for adults and the recently published Remmy and the Brain Train: Traveling Through the Land of Good Sleep for children.

"Kids tell me that they fall asleep on the bus," Maas continued, "and teachers say that they have to send kids to the nurse's office to nap."

Dr. Carl Hunt, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research (NCSDR), a component of the National Institutes of Health, agrees. "We know from talking with teachers that children are sleepy in the classroom and that this is a significant problem," he told Education World.


Both Hunt and Maas said that elementary school children require at least nine hours of sleep a night to be well rested, and some need even more. Activities such as after-school athletics, watching television, and using the computer often take away from sleep time, however.

Families in general are not going to bed as early as they need to, both experts add. Parents who are staying up too late to get everything done, often keep their children up too late as well.


Maas and Hunt both say that children react to inadequate sleep differently than adults do. Adults who do not get enough sleep generally yawn and feel sleepy all day. Like adults, sleep-deprived children are hard to rouse and exhibit sleepiness in the morning. Unlike adults, however, children generally become more active -- and less able to concentrate -- later in the day.

Because they become increasing more "wired" as the day progresses, sleep-deprived children often have trouble going to sleep at night. Parents may not realize that their children are not getting enough sleep.


Most people don't know much about sleep, according to Maas. "Forty-seven percent of the American population thinks the brain shuts down in sleep," he said. "But during sleep the brain is highly active, perhaps even more active than when we're awake."

Parents and children can learn what goes on in the brain during sleep by reading Remmy and the Brain Train together. Reading, the author points out, also is a good way to relax before going to bed.

Teachers can help children learn about the importance of sleep through the NCSDR's Sleep Well, Do Well Star Sleeper educational campaign, featuring cartoon character Garfield the cat. This program is aimed primarily at third graders, Hunt said, but will appeal to all young children.

"Parents, teachers, and children need to recognize that good sleep habits are just as important to overall health as diet and exercise," Hunt said, adding that a chronic lack of adequate sleep can exacerbate a tendency toward diabetes and being overweight, two growing health concerns in the United States. He also noted that sleep-deprived children are more accident prone than adequately rested children.

"Children develop habits when they're young," Maas said. "If they develop careless sleep habits as kids, they will retain them as adults. We have to learn to value sleep. Sleep is essential; it is not a luxury."

Tips for Healthful Sleep

Carl Hunt and James B. Maas offer the following tips to help parents help children develop healthy sleep habits:

* Establish a reasonable bedtime. Most elementary school children should be going to bed by 9 p.m. Some children who require more sleep might need an earlier bedtime.

* Allow sufficient time to wind down before bedtime. Children should not be engaging in intense activities, such as watching television, playing video games, or using the computer, right before they go to bed. They need about an hour of down time to prepare to fall asleep. Such relaxing activities as taking a bath or reading a story can help children fall asleep more easily.

* Avoid giving children caffeinated beverages and foods high in sugar in the late afternoon and evening.

* Provide a quiet sleeping area that is conducive to sleep. Maintain a consistent nightly routine. Children should go to bed at the same time every night, including weekends.

Article by Mary Daniels Brown
Education World ®
Copyright © 2006 Education World