Jan

04

2016

Influence of Sleep on Children’s Learning and Memory

Elisa Wetzler, Psy.D

            Sleep is an essential part of the health of a child that often is overlooked.  We typically want our children to receive adequate sleep and notice grumpiness and more struggles at home when they are tired.  However, not everyone is aware of the impact that poor sleep can have on the ability to learn and retain information.  School is a large part of children’s lives and disruption in sleep can negatively impact functioning in this setting.  This not only applies to amount of sleep but the continuity and quality of sleep patterns as well.  The optimal sleep time of school-aged children is 9-11 hours.  Less than this, multiple awakenings, or poor quality of sleep (i.e. untreated sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, bruxism, etc) can result in negative consequences.  During a recent Pediatric Sleep Medicine Conference, Dan W. Beebe, Ph.D. presented data on the impact of sleep on memory and learning in children.  The following is a list of areas that can be influenced if good sleep is not obtained:

 

  •             Acquired Knowledge/Learning
  •             Attendance
  •             Alertness
  •             Encoding
  •             Consolidation
  •             Retrieval
  •             Attention
  •             Working Memory
  •             Behavioral/Emotional Regulation
  •             Effort and Motivation
  •             Planning/Organization
  •             Social Functioning

 

This list is quite extensive and could greatly impact a child’s ability to perform well at school.  Furthermore, many of these issues are already present in individuals that have been diagnosed with ADHD, learning disabilities, executive weaknesses, and emotional difficulties.  How might the child’s sleep be exacerbating these preexisting conditions?  Addressing poor sleep can reduce the risk of problems in the above stated areas and could result in improvements in those already struggling in the school setting.  Consideration of consultation with a sleep medicine center or trained behavioral sleep medicine specialist may be warranted if sleep disturbance is identified as an issue during evaluation of difficulties.  


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