They wake up bleary-eyed and make a run for the bus stop to get to school. But in the classroom, are your kids well-rested enough to do their best?
A new University of Montreal study suggests that if your kids get an extra 90 minutes of sleep during the school week, they’ll get better grades. They’re calling for an extra 18 to 19 minutes of rest a day from Sunday to Thursday.
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“[Kids] need to be able to use their cognition, to pay attention, to take in information and then remember it and integrate it into what they already know. They have to be able to focus and ignore distractions,” lead researcher, Dr. Reut Gruber, a psychologist specializing in pediatric sleep, told Global News.
She compares sleeping to saving the work you’ve done on your computer to your hard drive.
“If you haven’t saved the file, it’s gone and memory consolidation isn’t just affected by sleep, it’s dependent on it. Sleep is an essential component to help kids with self-regulation, mood and emotional responses, too,” she explained.
Working with kids in studies is hard to pull off. In this case, Gruber collaborated with a Montreal school board and enlisted the help of teachers, parents and kids.
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She and her team developed programs to teach kids of various age groups about the importance of sleep. They were between seven and 11 years old.
The youngest group was introduced to a character named Sleepy Steven, who had trouble during the day because he wasn’t getting enough rest.
The middle group learned about sleep through comic books with superheroes and other learning tools, while the oldest volunteers learned firsthand through sleep experiments and finding strategies to improve their sleeping habits.
The kids wore bracelets that tracked their sleep before, during and after the programs ran for about six weeks.
Children’s advocacy groups say that kids should get between nine and 11 hours of sleep. These kids started at about 7.5 hours. By the end, with the extra 90 minutes tacked on, they were reaching the nine-hour benchmark.
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Their English grades went from about 75 to nearly 78 per cent, while their math grades jumped from 77 to nearly 80 per cent over the course of a few weeks. These were averages, so some kids saw even better results.
“It makes a big difference, absolutely,” Gruber told Global News. While three percentage points may not seem like a lot, they’re “statistically significant,” she said. In other programs that hope to hand kids a leg up in the classroom, the results are similar.
She noted that the programs were cost effective, too, so they could be rolled out in all school boards without breaking the bank.
What’s key is the cumulative effects of extra sleep, she specified. When you lose one good night’s rest, you manage to cope. But as the nights of sleep deficit accumulate, the effects worsen.
It works the other way around, too.
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“We’re not talking about one single night where one kid sleeps 20 minutes longer. We’re talking about 1.5 hours longer during a week of school,” she explained.
Getting a good night’s rest helps with concentration, keeping your emotions in check and maintaining a healthy immune system, to name a few benefits.
“We think of sleep as an altered state of consciousness. We shut down from the environment and part of that is just to block off endless stimulation that we get where the brain is sending messages to activation centres. Sleep is a process that shuts that off so we go to a quiet time,” Dr. Helen Driver, a sleep specialist at Kingston General Hospital, told Global News.
Think of your brain as a battery that needs to be recharged every night, Driver said.
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Gruber said the next steps are to help families and educators learn more about sleep – while the importance of nutrition and physical activity have made it into kids’ curriculum, sleep is overlooked, she said.
But it’s just as vital to better health as these other lifestyle factors, Gruber said. She’s hoping to integrate lessons on healthy eating, exercise and managing screen time with sleep so kids aren’t overwhelmed with too many streams of information.
Her full findings were published in the journal Sleep Medicine.