How does sleep affect learning?
For all of us, memory and learning are consolidated during sleep. For adolescents, this mostly happens during REM sleep – which is a phase in the sleep cycle that happens after deep sleep. During high-pressure times such as exams, students are often tempted to pull all-nighters to cram for the next day. Unfortunately, this is often counterproductive – because with fewer hours to reach the REM phase, the brain doesn’t get enough time to lay down what they’ve studied the night before.
The Power of Sleep
Imaging and behavioral studies continue to show the critical role sleep plays in learning and memory. Researchers believe that sleep affects learning and memory in two ways:
- Lack of sleep impairs a person’s ability to focus and learn efficiently.
- Sleep is necessary to consolidate a memory (make it stick) so that it can be recalled in the future.
“Memory recall and ability to maintain concentration are much improved when an individual is rested,” he says. “By preparing early and being able to better recall what you have studied, your ability to perform well on exams is increased.”
As head of the Harris Health Sleep Disorders Center, a nationally certified facility by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Alapat and his staff perform about 1,200 sleep studies a year to evaluate patients for a variety of sleep disorders, including apnea, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy and chronic fatigue syndrome.
College-aged students ideally should get 8-9 hours of sleep a night. Truth is, most students generally get much less.
“Any prolonged sleep deprivation will affect your mood, energy level and ability to focus, concentrate and learn, which directly affects your academic performance,” Alapat adds.
While the old advice is that it’s important to get a good night’s sleep before an exam the real benefits occur when teens get a good night’s sleep after studying for the exam.
In her groundbreaking book The Teenage Brain, neuroscientist Dr Frances Jensen explains ‘Bedtime isn’t simply a way for the body to relax and recoup after a hard day working, studying or playing. It’s the glue that allows us not only to recollect our experiences but also to remember everything we’ve learned that day.”
Not only does sleep strengthen learning and memories – it also has the ability to prioritise memories by breaking them up and organising them according to their emotional importance.
Essentially the more you learn, the more you need to sleep which is why a good sleep is critical in achieving success at school.
How much sleep do we need?
There is no magic number for exactly how much sleep we need, but the Australian Centre for Education in Sleep (ACES) suggests the following as a guide:
Primary school: 10-12 hours per day
High school adolescents: 8-10 hours per day
Adults: 7-9 hours per day
During adolescence, melatonin (a sleep hormone) is released later in the evening compared to adults, which explains why your child may fight sleep in the evening. Because of the delayed release of this hormone, it also sticks around longer, making teens sluggish in the morning.
A healthy sleep routine with adequate time to wind-down at the end of the day is important to ensure you teen gets the sleep their brain needs to develop and consolidate everything they’ve learnt that day.
What happens if they don’t get enough?
According to the ACES, 35 – 40% of children and adolescents experience some form of sleep deprivation during their development.
A short-lived bout of lack of sleep is generally nothing to worry about: the bigger concern is sleep deprivation – a longer period of time where you are not getting the hours you need to function and learn.
Poor sleep will have all sorts of adverse physiological, emotional and cognitive effects on children and particular teenagers, including:
- Susceptibility to serious illness
- Rise in blood pressure
- Eating too much, or eating the wrong foods
- Mood swings
- Aggressive, impatient behaviour
- Low self-esteem
Without adequate sleep our focus and attention drifts making it harder to receive information. When we are sleep-deprived our overworked neurons can no longer function to coordinate information properly and we lose our ability to access previously learned information.
Don’t let your students be like this!
Two ways we can ensure students get better sleep
- Firstly, a good mattress is paramount, sourcing a good mattress ensures students get the quality of sleep they need. A good mattress will be firm yet comfortable so weight is evenly distributed reducing pressure on the body. It will also be made from materials to reduce allergens. For more information on the Performance and Performance Platinum mattress range developed specifically for the Student Accommodation sector click here
- Adjust Lighting The scourge of modern times is our utter dependence on digital devices. College students are no exception to humanity’s collective addiction to our smartphones. The problem with this is the blue light it emits, which disrupts your body’s sleep clock, making it unable to know the time to sleep. To overcome this, limit use of digital devices and cut them out completely a few hours before your bedtime. You can also let the sunlight in in the morning to make you more alert as well as dim lights in the evening. Dimming the lights in the evening and at night will ensure your body knows it will soon be time to sleep. Letting in the sunlight in the morning is to boost your alertness. If you need help with lighting for your student facilities contact one of the Furniture, Fittings & Equipment Concepts & Solutions team here
Make certain your students are getting good grades by sleeping well to boost your school/university rankings