Students shouldn’t underestimate the importance of regularly getting a good night’s sleep. Decades’ worth of research has associated sleep with better grades, attention, memory, mood, health and well-being. Yet despite this, many students aren’t getting enough sleep and nowhere near the recommended amount of 8 to 10 hours each night. This is a common challenge for educators who see their students’ daily life and achievements impacted, but who have little control over this.
We know that students often believe certain myths about sleep and have a hard time regulating themselves. Therefore, the people who are most likely to have an impact on students’ sleeping habits are their parents. But do parents have an accurate estimation of how much sleep their child is actually getting? And, most importantly, do they know what they can do to help? We have read the research and decided on the most important information we think you need to know.
What Does the Research Say?
A study of 203 teenagers at a school in Australia found irregularities between parents’ estimates of their child’s sleeping patterns and the child’s realistic sleeping patterns. On a school night, parents believed that their child went to bed around 15-20 minutes earlier than they really did and slept for almost 9 hours a night when, in reality, students were getting closer to 8 hours of sleep. However, parents were pretty accurate at knowing what time their child woke up in the morning.
On the weekend, parents thought their child was going to bed between 20-30 minutes earlier than they actually were and getting 10 hours of sleep a night, when they were really getting up to 90 minutes less than that. Parents also thought their child was waking up later than they actually were – with some estimates being almost an hour off.
This research study indicates that parents have an inaccurate depiction of their child’s sleeping habits and often report an idealised version. Not only does this demonstrate the importance of using adolescent-derived estimates of sleep when carrying out research in this area, but it also shows a gap in sleep education in parents. To help students develop better sleeping habits, it is important for parents to be more aware of the realistic sleeping patterns in teenagers and for them to develop a more accurate picture of their child’s sleep.
What Are the Benefits of Sleep?
Numerous researchers have explored the positive power of sleep. From enhanced concentration to a better immune system, the benefits of sleep seem wide ranging. Research shows a difference of around half a grade between students who slept well and those who didn’t. This is possibly because those students who get better sleep may be more attentive in class the following day, leading to more effective learning.
Evidence also suggests that new connections are formed between our brain cells when we sleep. Regularly getting a good night’s sleep can aid and improve memory and recall – an undeniable reason for success in exams.
But it’s more important than just good academic performance: many researchers believe that one of the main functions of sleep is to maintain our immune system and regulate the hormones necessary to our health. Getting the recommended hours of sleep a night can help the body defend against illness. Those who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus and can experience a much slower recovery than those who sleep well.
How to Help Your Child Sleep Better
If you’re a parent, it is unfortunately very likely that your child is not getting enough sleep. Experts recommend 8-10 hours of sleep a night for students on average. However, a recent survey found that most are getting less than 6 ¾ hours of sleep each night. When we ask students at the schools we visit to run our workshops, they often say that they are getting less than 6. Not getting enough sleep will catch up to students and lead them to feeling grumpy, struggling to focus and not working to their fullest potential.
So, implement a structured bedtime routine into your child’s daily life. This will help them get enough sleep and therefore reap all of the benefits mentioned above. A good bedtime routine should involve the following:
- Start the routine a few hours before bedtime – winding down for the evening earlier will help children relax and have a smoother transition to sleep.
- Encourage them to exercise during the day – this will tire them out as well as keeping them healthy.
- Ask them to turn off their phones – maybe have a box where you keep all the phones (including your own!) charging in a separate room overnight. This will avoid distractions and excessive amount of blue light, which will keep their sleep hormones at the right levels.
- Avoid any caffeinated drinks- these can increase alertness and throw the sleep cycle off balance.
Sleep is one of the most important parts of our day. Whilst many may see it purely as a time to recharge, its benefits for both our physical and mental health are endless. Children follow lives that are filled with distractions from the moment they wake up to the moment their head hits the pillow at night. Try some of our tips to develop a bedtime routine that will help your children to become successful sleepers.
If you’re interested in learning more about sleep, check out our page The Benefits of Sleep for everything from common sleep mistakes to how to wake up better.