As kids get older, they consider it a rite of passage to get to stay up later. Meanwhile, weary parents ache over which scenario is worse—getting the kids to bed at a reasonable hour or trying to get them up for school in the morning.

Have you wondered if the effects of not getting enough sleep extend beyond the power struggle between a parent and child? Researchers would say yes. In fact, they’d tell you that it affects student’s school performance, cognitive functioning, mood regulation, behavior, and overall health.

Lack of Sleep Affects School Performance

Canadian researchers at McGill University and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal found that the pre-frontal cortex (front part) of the brain is affected by poor sleep and insufficient sleep. The pre-frontal cortex is the command center of the brain for executive functioning and self-regulation. When students learn and study, they are using executive function skills like:

  • Planning
  • Focusing attention
  • Filtering distractions
  • Self-regulation
  • Remembering instructions
  • Prioritize tasks
  • Multi-tasking
  • Controlling impulses

The Canadian report showed that children who got enough sleep and quality sleep performed better in subjects that require a high level of executive function, like math and languages. Researchers also noted that early achievement in math and languages are powerful predictors of later learning and academic success.

Sleep Disorders Are Common and Co-Occur with Mental Health Disorders

Many other clinical studies have shown that sleep problems in children are common, affecting 10%-37% of children. These studies have also shown that disturbed sleeping patterns co-occur with mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism, and mental retardation.

Getting Kids to Sleep Without Counting Sheep

How much sleep do children need? The National Sleep Foundation states that children aged 6-13 years need 9-11 hours of sleep per night and teens aged 14-17 need 8-10 hours of nightly sleep. Kids also need quality, restful sleep during those hours to wake up refreshed and ready to learn.

Start a conversation with your child about what might be causing sleep troubles. Is there a problem with a teacher or peer? Are they feeling sad or anxious? Do they feel rested when they get up? Are they tired at school or after school? If your child’s feelings seem out of the ordinary, it’s a good idea to have them evaluated for social, emotional, or mental health disorders.

Establish healthy bedtime routines. Get your child on board with an experiment. Have your child go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night and see what time he or she wakes up feeling refreshed. The results will speak for themselves.

Keep televisions and electronics out of bedrooms. Kids who watch less than two hours of television sleep better.

The earlier you address making sleep routines a priority, the better the chance that sleep problems won’t follow your children into adulthood. Be consistent and ask for help from professionals when you need it.

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