Sunday, January 30, 2011

School Success is in Your Dreams

Do any of the following apply to your children?
  • Does your child stay awake more than 15-30 minutes after bedtime?
  • Do you have to try to wake them an excessive number of times? 
  • Does your child’s teacher report drowsiness in class?
  • Does your child have difficulty concentrating and focusing on school work?
  • Does your child have depressed moods that seem to be out of the ordinary?
  • Does your child have difficulty controlling his emotions and impulses?

If the answer is yes to any of these, the culprit may be a lack of sleep. Nothing can compensate for an inadequate amount of sleep. The proper amount of sleep will vary depending upon the child’s age, daily routine, and lifestyle demand. Examine your child’s school performance and evaluate whether or not they get enough sleep. If you are not sure where to start, consider the suggestions given by the National Sleep Foundation1.

Memory and attentiveness hinge significantly upon whether or not a student sleeps enough. Perhaps you remember moments when you were a student (or you observed this in your own children), and you dedicated yourself to stay up late and prepare well for a test. The next day, you could not remember a single thing you studied. You knew it masterfully the day before, but the lack of sleep impaired your ability to retain what you learned. We often think that “burning the midnight oil” will make one successful, but if done habitually, it will impair student achievement.

While most parents understand the importance of a good night’s sleep for younger children, high school students often go unsupervised. Perhaps, parents think their teens are big enough to handle it, or they think their teenagers are going to bed – they really are texting their friends or using some other form of electronic media. Interestingly, a study at Brown Hospital and Brown University revealed that high school students’ school performance correlated to their sleep time2.
  • On average, students who made A’s and B’s were in bed by 10:32pm.
  • On average, students who made D’s and F’s did not go to bed until 11:22pm.
  • The better a student’s grades, the less he overslept on the weekends.
  • Students with shorter night-sleep reported more depressed moods, daytime sleepiness, and problematic sleep behaviors.
  • Irregular sleeping schedules resulted in more behavioral problems.

Developing Good Sleep Habits
1.       Be consistent. Once you have determined your child’s bedtime, enforce it consistently. This often inconveniences mom and dad, but it’s worth it in the end. After adjusting to the routine, your child will fall asleep timely, and morning wake up’s will be much easier.
2.       Develop a routine. Children hate going to bed, and avoiding it can get interesting. There is always that “one more thing” they need to do before going to bed. This is when we realize just how creative our children can be. To avoid nightly battles, develop a routine they will adjust to following. Read a story. Brush your teeth. Get a drink. Say your prayers. Hug your dad. Make it whatever you want it to be. Just remember that children thrive on routines.
3.       Avoid media before bedtime. Media of all stimulates the brain. If a sleepy person turns on the TV, he can find himself going to bed several hours later than he thought he would. Why? Media is addictive. And when you walk away from media, it hardly leaves your mind for a long time. Some have recommended that children stay away from media at least an hour before bedtime. An exception for some might be listening to calming music. Media, however, that involves visual stimulation (i.e. television, computer, smartphone) makes falling asleep much more difficult.
4.       Avoid foods that cause insomnia. Foods high in sugar and caffeine work against you. I realize some recent studies tell us that sugar does not cause temporary hyperactivity, but you will never convince an elementary teacher.

I realize, like the researchers, that the correlation between sleep and school success involves more than sole sleeping time. Students with good sleeping habits are typically all-around more disciplined people. Their study habits probably outshine their less disciplined classmates, not just their sleep habits. Nevertheless, good sleep habits equip a child to cultivate other disciplined habits. Don’t expect them to be disciplined in other areas of life when their lack of sleep robs them of the energy, mood, and focus to succeed.

Permit me to offer two Scripture passages that can be applied to the subject of sleep. First, Proverbs 3:21-24 offers insight for obtaining a good night sleep. Read wisdom – the Word of God. The promise given is that “When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.” When you, or your children, can’t escape thoughts of worry or stress that leave you sleepless, read the Word.  Secondly, Acts 20:9 tell us of a man named Eutychus who fell asleep during Paul’s sermon and fell from the balcony. Note that there is only one reason he fell asleep (it wasn’t because Paul was boring): He didn’t get enough sleep the night before. If your child falls asleep in class, don’t expect the Apostle Paul to come by and perform a miracle.  Be consistent, be disciplined, and you will notice an improvement.


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