Children who go to bed earlier tend to have better quality of sleep and, in turn, perform better in class. Photo: Sam Tsang
by Katrina Rozga
by Katrina Rozga

Do better sleep habits mean better grades at school?

The quality and quantity of sleep are vital to a growing, learning brain. When children go to bed, and when they wake up, are as important as how much sleep they get. A good routine, and good habits, are also vital to sleeping health

Does getting enough sleep make you smarter? Not exactly. But over the years, research has consistently linked getting a good night’s sleep to greater success at school. That is because a well-rested brain is far more capable of retaining information and consolidating memories. A lot of factors determine academic success, but being able to remember what you learned is surely one of the most important.

Both the quality and quantity of sleep are key to imparting the benefits of sleep to a growing, learning brain. Sleep quality refers to an undisturbed sleep in a comfortable, healthy environment. A cool, dark room with adequate clean bedding creates a good physical space for sleep. Children need to experience the full cycle of sleep stages for optimal health, so waking them in the middle of the night, intentionally or unintentionally, should be avoided.

Sleep quantity refers to how many hours of sleep a child gets per night. Your paediatrician can provide you with the most recent recommendations for the optimal number of hours your child needs. Daytime naps, while important to very young children, do not figure into night-time sleep hours for older children. In fact, unhealthy nap habits can lead to a vicious cycle of later bedtimes, poor night-time sleep quality, difficult morning wake-ups and long groggy days.

Going to bed and waking up

It is no coincidence new studies reveal that when you go to bed and when you wake up are also as important as how much sleep you get. Research shows that children who go to bed earlier simply do better at school. Those who go to bed earlier also tend to have better quality of sleep, with less waking in the night and more restorative sleep. Some parents assume that a child who goes to bed later will just sleep in later, but this not the case. Even when children are left to wake on their own, they rarely get enough sleep.

A good routine helps support sleep health. As parents, it is important to ensure that bedtimes and waking times do not vary too much from weekdays to weekends. Such consistency has its rewards – large differences in bedtime between weekdays and weekends have been associated with lower GPAs. Many studies have also shown that sleeping in on the weekends is not equivalent to “catching up”. So while it may be tempting to let a child stay up late on a Friday night, all signs point towards putting them to bed as usual.

Good sleep habits

Best practices for parents to help their children get the sleep they need include restricting screen time before bed, discouraging naps for older children, and putting youngsters to bed earlier for that extra hour of sleep rather than encouraging an extra hour of study. Time management is a key skill to learn as children get older, and factoring sleep into the schedule is an important consideration. Self-care forms an equally important part of positive and successful school performance.

There is a good reason parents should concern themselves with their child’s sleep habits. There are real risks to constantly burning the candle at both ends. Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality is a consistent predictor of poor concentration, poor executive functioning, behavioural problems and poorer academic performance overall. When you prioritise sleep, you are prioritising your child’s ability to succeed at school.

Prepared for the task

Sleep, proper nutrition, exercise and free time playing or relaxing are all necessary for a child’s overall health. They ensure attention can be maintained, that memory can properly store new information and that the child is engaged in his or her work rather than feeling pushed to work when their body is not prepared for the task.

Academics are important, but sleep serves important functions in maintaining a balanced mood, reducing tantrums and boosting general happiness. While your child may initially resist an earlier bedtime, remember that in the end their better mood, greater emotional regulation and higher functioning at school will mean a happier and healthier child overall.