As a result of academic and extracurricular demands, many children do not get the sleep they need to be alert during the school day. Children who sleep less tend to get lower grades in school. A number of studies have examined the effects of sleep deprivation in children, but most have only adjusted sleeping patterns for one night.

A new study published in the December 2005 issue of Sleep found that during a week of restricted sleeping, children exhibited decreased academic performance, increased sleepiness, and inattentiveness.

About the Study

This study included 74 healthy, academically successful children (39 boys and 35 girls) ages 6-12. The children were instructed to adhere to their normal (“baseline”) sleeping schedule for one week. For the next two weeks, the children spent one week on a reduced sleep schedule (eight hours/night for first and second graders; 6.5 hours/night for older children) and the other week on an optimized sleep schedule (at least 10 hours/night). Each week, the children’s teachers, who were unaware of the sleep schedules, filled out questionnaires to assess the children’s academic performance, sleepiness, and level of attention.

The researchers found that, compared with the baseline and optimized schedules, the reduced sleep schedule resulted in significantly lower ratings of academic problems and higher ratings of sleepiness. In addition, the reduced sleeping schedule was associated with significantly lower ratings of attentiveness.

How Does This Affect You?

This study suggests that sleep deprivation in children can impact their academic performance in school and can result in attention problems. These findings add to previous research that indicates children are slower to process new information and are more forgetful when they do not get enough sleep.

If your child is having academic or attention problems in school, determine if he or she is getting enough sleep during the week. Despite common wisdom to the contrary, children cannot “catch up” on lost sleep on the weekends, so it is important to make certain that children adhere to an adequate and consistent sleeping schedule all week long. School-age children need between nine and 12 hours of sleep per night.