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Coaching Your Child        < Previous        Next >


Amazing, Secret Learning Tool: Sleep


Q. If teachers could get parents to make just one change in the home environment that would help kids the most in school, what would it be?


My guess is, get more sleep. Research is showing more and more that overstimulated, overtired kids who aren't getting enough hours of sleep every night are unable to concentrate in school or on their homework. They also feel sluggish, eat too much and don't process their stress as well.


The students themselves will tell you that they use class time to catch up on the Z's they missed because they stayed up into the wee hours of the night listening to their iPods, Instant Messaging, zoning out on TV, playing computer games, showering after sports practices and games that go late into the evening, surfing the Internet, hanging with their friends, and so forth.


Ironically, school officials front-load the "hard" classes at the start of the school day because they believe that is when the kids are the most "fresh." No, they aren't. They're sleep-deprived!


It's also ironic that the bona fide research all shows that markedly reducing class sizes, paying teachers more, hiring only master's level teachers, and gaining scads of new money for K-12 education all are improvement ideas that would basically make NO improvement in student achievement . . . yet bona fide research also shows that children and teens who get eight or nine or more hours of sleep per night have better school performance as well as behavior, attendance, punctuality and overall health.


The National Sleep Foundation reports that teens now average between 6.5 and seven hours of uninterrupted sleep on a weeknight; only one in five gets the recommended nine hours. It's a big problem for adolescents, whose growth hormones change their circadian rhythms so that they tend to fall asleep later and want to get up later in the morning.


You would be wise to make your child shut off all electronics at least an hour before bedtime, and use those good, old-fashioned sleep-inducers such as a warm bath or shower, a comforting bedtime snack such as a banana or bowl of cereal, a bedtime story (or, for an older child, a nice conversation with a parent), and a quiet, dark bedroom with no music, phone calls, no open laptops beneath the sheets, or other stimuli that might interfere with that good REM (Rapid Eye Movement) replenishing sleep.


Until and unless your district alters the school day schedule, it's up to the parent to enforce a home lifestyle that will offer your child eight or nine hours of sleep per night. A child who's acing "Sleep 101" has a much better chance of acing all those other classes, with eyes wide open.


Homework: Parents in Fairfax, Va., have compiled good information about sleep in a grassroots effort to force local schools to open later in the morning and help their children get more sleep. See:


By Susan Darst Williams Coaching Your Child 06 2008


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