Poor Sleep, Poor Grades
Doctors, nurses and other health care providers never
fail to remind teachers, principals and other school professionals that
children and adolescents can only learn optimally if they are healthy.
But how true is this?
In a series
of six recently-published articles, the relationship
between children’s performance in school and various health problems was
examined. In each of these articles, the authors reviewed numerous
published research studies to look for patterns. Of all the health
problems investigated, poor sleep was among the most unexpected and
definitive causes of poor
need at least nine hours of restful sleep each night. However, for many
reasons, school-aged children may receive less than the recommended
amount. The reasons for this shortfall include the working, eating, and
bedtime patterns of students and their families, early school-start
times, and childhood sleep disorders (such as disrupted sleep from
or breathing pauses).
adolescents and pre-adolescents (more than 40%, in many research
studies) do not get adequate amounts of sleep. In one study of 1,000
students (grades 9-12), 90% reported feeling groggy from lack of sleep.
And there is evidence that grogginess affects school performance.
In another study comparing 150 high school students with
high GPAs with their peers with lower GPAs, most of the higher-GPA
students awakened later on school days, awoke earlier on weekends, had
fewer night-time awakenings and other signs of good sleep habits.
Going to bed late and waking up late appear to be just
another part of how all (or most) adolescents are wired during that
stage of life. This sleep pattern is not necessarily a personality
characteristic, a sign of laziness, or a desire to stay up late (even
though many will spend the time partying or talking on the telephone).
Early school-start times do not mesh well with this stage of
development. Although it makes sense that later school-start times for
adolescents would lead to better grades, more research is necessary to
determine if this would actually occur.
It is not only adolescents who have sleep problems that
affect their education. In one study of 132 third, fourth, and fifth
graders, 43% had sleep difficulties lasting more than six months. Those
with the sleep difficulties were more likely to have failed at least on
year of school than those without sleep difficulties.
One of the more startling findings from this review of
the literature is that there are a large number of elementary school
children who snore at night, awaken themselves, and as a result suffer
from poorer ability to think and learn. These children, whose airways
are obstructed at night, may have problems with attention, psychology
test results or grades in school. In many cases, removal of these
children’s tonsils and adenoids not only improved their breathing, but
also their ability to learn.
group of 297 elementary school children ranked in the bottom 10th
percentile of their classes, almost 20% had breathing problems during
sleep. All the children in this study with sleeping problems who had
their tonsils and adenoids removed had improved grades the following
school years. Those children without sleep problems who had their
tonsils and adenoids removed had no improved grades.
Families with a child who is performing poorly in school
or has a short attention span should consider whether any of the
following problems occur at home with their child:
• Poor sleep patterns (late bedtime, early wake-up time)
• Bedtime resistance that affects sleep hours or any other causes
for delay in sleep onset
• Any awakenings at night
• Any breathing problems that interfere with sleep
• An increase in daytime sleepiness.
Any of these problems should be reported to your
child’s doctor so that together you can explore the possible
relationship between poor sleep and poor school