The impact of sleep

My life for the last 12 months has revolved around something that is near and dear to every parent’s heart – Sleep!  There’s nothing like bringing a new baby home to bring the pleasure of a good restful sleep right to the forefront of your mind. But sleep is not only longed for by parents in the newborn phase, good sleep is very important right through the life span. I recently read some research that has some shocking implications about the effects of sleep on performance, learning and memory.

In one study, the NBA decided to look into the impact of sleep on player performance. They did some interventions to improve player’s sleeping habits and found that for every regular hour of increased sleep a player gained, after a month their performance improved to the point that it increased the value of their contract by $1.6 million.

And it’s not just about physical functioning – another study found that when deprived of just one hour of sleep each night, 6th graders academically performed like 4th graders in the classroom. In research done on adults, one group of people  ‘pulled an all nighter’ and the other group were allowed to have a good night’s sleep. The next day they were asked to learn a whole lot of new facts, and then they were tested on their memory of these new facts. The group that were kept awake had a 40% deficit in making new memories. It’s also been found that the top 10% of students don’t necessarily have higher IQs or spend more time studying – but they do regularly get on average 40 minutes more sleep than their matched peers.

There is so much research into sleep and its impact on learning and development, that I couldn’t possibly go into it all here. The important thing to do, if you’re convinced that sleep is important, is to tweak things a little in your family life so that it is a priority for yourself and for your children. Even if you’re not sure, why not try it out for a couple of weeks, and see if there is a difference. Below are some beginning suggestions to try out, or follow the links if you’re interested in learning about how sleep affects you, and what to do about more serious problems with sleep.

So, good night! I’m going to bed!

Tips to give your child the sleep advantage

  • Remove devices and TVs from bedrooms, turn off the wifi, set up “Do not disturb” on everyone’s phones – 83% of children under 17 years report using a phone or device between 10pm and 6am. Imagine what an advantage your child would have if they were sleeping instead of using a device during this time. If you do nothing else, please try this!
  • Set bed time routines – do the same things every night, to cue your body that it is time to sleep. Even as teens and older children start to be independent in their evening activities, they can still develop their own routines – Just make sure they are ones that promote sleep rather than set them up to be awake too late!
  • Prioritise sleep. Stop studying with enough time to wind down and then get enough sleep – an extra hour cramming is more likely to cause memory difficulties rather than helping you stuff more information into your head or perform well the next day. Don’t just wait until you feel tired, or be tempted by that one last auto play video on Netflix (parents and children!).

More information

Australian Sleep Health Foundation: A wealth of info, apps, podcasts and strategies to check out:

Tips for improving sleep for school aged children:

Russell Foster – Why we sleep:

Matt Walker – Sleep is your super power: