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At a Glance: 4 Ways Sleep Problems Can Affect How Kids Learn

By Peg Rosen

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Sleep troubles are common among kids with learning and attention issues. And lack of sleep can make it harder for your child to learn at school. Here’s how.

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At a Glance: 4 Ways Sleep Problems Can Affect How Kids Learn

Not getting enough sleep can affect how well kids do in school—especially kids with learning and attention issues. Here are four ways lack of sleep can make learning even more challenging.

Limits Planning and Organization Skills
Lack of sleep can temporarily impair the area of the brain responsible for organization, planning and problem solving.
Effect on learning: Tired kids may spend time searching for lost belongings instead of doing schoolwork. They may find it harder to prioritize their homework and pace themselves during tests.

Worsens Mood and Behavior
Many kids become moody, impulsive or silly when they’re overtired. They may become frustrated more quickly and lose their tempers easily.
Effect on learning: Kids who lose their temper can end up sitting in the principal’s oce instead of in class. And having shorter fuses may make them give up on challenging work more quickly.

Reduces Focus and Attention
Studies show that when people are sleep-deprived, their brain waves lapse into very brief “sleep-like” patterns while they’re awake. These daytime “micro-sleeps” help explain why exhausted students “space out” at times in class. Kids with ADHD are particularly at risk.
Effect on learning: Students who don’t get enough sleep may be distracted more easily and may make careless errors. They may have trouble concentrating on class assignments and on what the teacher is saying.

Lack of sleep can have a negative effect on “working” (short-term) and long-term memory. It’s harder for a sleep-deprived brain to focus, so it’s harder for it to retain new things. And poor sleep may interfere with the formation and recall of long-term memories.
Effect on learning: Overtired kids may work more slowly because it’s tough for them to remember what they’ve just heard or read. When they learn a new math formula, for example, they may forget it by the next day.
Graphic of At a Glance: 4 Ways Sleep Problems Affect How Kids Learn
Graphic of At a Glance: 4 Ways Sleep Problems Affect How Kids Learn

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About the Author

Portrait of Peg Rosen

Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including ParentCenter, WebMD, Parents, Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart.

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Portrait of Elizabeth Harstad

Elizabeth Harstad, M.D., M.P.H., is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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