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Sleep and School Grades

Posted On: Thursday, April 07, 2016 Posted By: Frank J. Domino, M.D. Tags: children, elementary school, grades, sleep

Title: School Based Sleep Program Improves Academic Performance of Elementary School Age Children in Math and English Grades

RefSleep Medicine, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.sleep.2016.01.012

Summary: a brief, teacher led instruction to elementary students on sleep behavior improved their academic performance.

Methods: children in an elementary school were evaluated in a pre-and post methodology to determine if an intervention to improve the number of minutes of sleep per night had an influence on academic performance. Teachers were trained and then taught the students the "Sleep for Success” program.  This included 4 modules:  Sleep Knowledge and Education (encouraged students to make healthier choices), Family and Community Involvement (encouraged parents and children to discuss sleep and life balance), Sleep Promotion for Staff (encouraged school staff to practice balanced and healthy lifestyles), and Sleep-friendly School Environment (encouraged school principals to assess their school’s workload and activity schedules to identify factors support student’s sleep). 

In the 2 weeks prior to the intervention, students were sent home with a sleep diary and given an “actigraph” to wear each night while they slept.  This watch-like device measured time spent asleep during the night, along with sleep efficiency, and sleep latency.

Outcomes: after implementing the Sleep for Success program, students slept an average of 18 minutes more per night. The quality of their sleep was also improved.  Review of report cards after the intervention found the grades in Math and English were significantly improved by the sleep intervention.

Conclusions: a simple school delivered intervention lead to improved academic performance.

Discussion:  This small study has lots of detail, was conducted over a short time span, and its outcome had a small but significant impact on grades.  For us, what it implies about pediatric health and our role in children’s care is quite significant. 

A very small increase in number of minutes of sleep altered grades.  In our current world of structured play, and increased use of “screens” for both school and entertainment, a small intervention of empowering children, reminding parents, and requiring school principals to consider their students’ activities had a profound effect.  Kids slept more, and ultimately did better. 

This study was conducted in just 10 weeks.   Its exclusion criteria left children with learning disabilities and ADHD out of the process.  It did include a piece of technology that is unlikely to be universally available and was an indirect measure of sleep.  So, its true impact is limited.  Yet, the student focused curriculum was done well (see an example here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7mII_5IBmY&feature=youtu.be).  It altered student outcomes and made both parents and principals re-evaluate their current practice.  On the research side, I do hope the authors plan to provide longer follow up.  Ideally, follow a variety of outcomes over the academic year and longer.

But for our practice:

The impact of improved sleep on academic performance is demonstrated here.  But, this may be a lesson for us as well.  If you are tired all of the time, count your hours of sleep and ask yourself when you should be going to bed.  Determine what your activity schedule is and if you use a screen in the bedroom.  Maybe this isn’t just for kids?