DOES YOUR TEEN STRUGGLE IN SCHOOL?
Have you ever wondered why your teen continues to struggle in school despite the fact that you’ve done everything you know to help him or her? You’ve spent a huge part of your monthly budget on a tutor, you make sure she’s at school early to discuss assignments with her teachers and she stays late to get extra help. She spends hours studying for exams and has even cut out extra-curricular activities. Yet, when grades come, you’re surprised to see that she’s not doing as well as you’d hoped.
SLEEP AND TEEN GRADES
Did you ever consider that maybe she’s not sleeping well? That maybe her sleep habits are influencing her grades?
A recent study done in the UK (Dimitriou, Knight & Milton, 2015) addressed the factors that may indirectly influence your teen’s GPA and cognitive functioning. According to these authors, total time spent sleeping and the quality of teen’s sleep may be related to how they perform in school.
Although the National Sleep Foundation recommends teens get 8-10 hours of sleep each night (https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep), in the study conducted by Dimitriou et al., teens spent an average of approximately 7 hours sleeping each night. These authors addressed the fact that certain factors may decrease a teen’s likeliness of fulfilling the recommended 8-10 hours, which may lower their GPA. Here are some practical tips for helping teens get more sleep and improve academics based upon the Dimitriou et al. study:
1. DROP TV OR TECHNOLOGY BEFORE BED
Using a screen before going to sleep can decrease an adolescent’s total time sleeping. The teens in the Dimitriou et al. study who used a screen at least 30 minutes before bed slept less than teens who didn’t. This included television, tablets and phones. When TV and media influenced sleep, teens’ reasoning ability dropped as well as their GPA. It may be that both TV and social media increase teen “physiological arousal making it more difficult to sleep”. In addition, it could be that screens influence melatonin – which affects sleep.
2. GET RID OF CAFFEINE BEFORE BED
Caffeine consumption, either in the form of sodas or energy drinks, impacts sleep. Although many people report that caffeine before bed has no effect on them, this current study found a relationship between less sleep and caffeine consumption within half an hour of going to bed. This consumption indirectly affected the teen’s grades by decreasing the quantity and quality of their sleep.
3. INCREASE EXERCISE
According to Dimitriou et al., teen grades can be impacted by exercise. When the teens in their study exercised more often, GPA improved. Although exercise wasn’t directly linked with improved sleep, it was certainly a means by which teen grades were influenced.
TEEN SLEEP QUALITY VS. SLEEP QUANTITY
As has been described, it is not only important for teens to get the right amount of sleep (8-10 hours each night), but they also need to get good sleep. When teens are restless in their sleep, wake up in the middle of the night or find it hard to get back to sleep once they wake up early, their grades are impacted. Teens who have access to screens when they wake in the middle of the night are at risk of poor sleep quality.
The disturbing part of this is that teens may not even notice the negative impact on their functioning. When deprived of sleep (for whatever reason), teens/young adults aren’t able to recognize that their abilities aren’t as sharp. Despite showing less ability to concentrate, problems with focused attention and lower performance on cognitive tasks when sleep deprived, teens/young adults actually rate themselves as performing well. (Pilcher & Walters, 1997). These youth simply don’t notice the drop off in their abilities.
WHAT CAN A PARENT DO TO HELP TEENS SLEEP BETTER?
- Talk with your teen about the importance of sleep and the negative impact of not sleeping well
- Make a plan to help your teen avoid screens at least an hour before bed. A few examples:
- Think about keeping televisions out of teen bedrooms
- Have a check-in time for phones and tablets
- Encourage “down-time” an hour before bed without screens
- Discourage caffeine an hour before bed
- Encourage a regular bed time (rather than differing times each night)–sleep routines can increase total sleep time
A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
The Bible doesn’t give direct commands about how much sleep we’re supposed to get. I venture to guess that this wasn’t necessarily a cultural issue of the day. However, we are provided with guidance about how to live a life worthy of His calling (Col 1:10)–of how to walk in a way that glorifies God. One of the ways in which we do this is that we are commanded to do our work as for the Lord and not for others. Certainly there are steps we can take in our daily lives that will make us more productive and more likely to function at our peak. Taking care of ourselves is one way we do this–by treating our bodies as a temple of the holy spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20). Sleep may just fall into this realm.
Helping teens adjust their sleeping patterns and habits so as to make the most of their sleep–increasing quantity and quality–can impact the ways in which they perform one of their most important jobs, school. Parents play a role in this by encouraging healthy habits and helping teens avoid activities that may influence their sleep and, therefore, their performance. This may seem a stretch, but making sure our kids rightly use their gifts and talents is one of the responsibilities of a parent. Teens tend to think that they are invincible, that bad things won’t happen to them and they won’t necessarily have the effects of sleep deprivation. However, parents play a key role during adolescence of teaching teens to understand the impact of their actions. In this case, choosing to spend time staring at a screen, drinking a coke and staying up too late may all have an unwanted effect that teens need to be aware of. Once again, parents can help them to perform their “work” as if for the Lord and not for others. (Click here to visit my Bible Study Blog)
Until next time – Veola
Limits to this study:
- This study was completed in the UK and may not apply to other cultures
- This study focused on just 48 Caucasian teens. A larger group of teens may have made these findings more relatable to other races and the greater population of teens in general
- Teens in the study supplied a self-report of their activities–at times self-reports are limited due to their lack of objectivity.
References and Additional Reading:
Dimitriou, D., Le Cornu Knight, F., & Milton, P. (2015). The Role of Environmental Factors on Sleep Patterns and School Performance in Adolescents. Frontiers In Psychology, 61-9. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01717
Pilcher, J. J., & Walters, A. S. (1997). How sleep deprivation affects psychological variables. Journal Of American College Health, 46(3), 121.
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