Just 20 More Minutes Of Sleep Could Boost Your Kids’ Grades

At least in math and English.
Tara Moore via Getty Images

Here's one more reason kids’ bedtimes matter so much. A new study published in the journal Sleep Medicine found that teaching kids about the importance of sleep allowed them to get nearly 20 minutes more of it per night. What's more, to the researchers' surprise, that extra 20 minutes in bed yielded higher grades in both math and English on students' report cards.

According to its author, this study sends a clear message to parents to prioritize their kids’ sleep.

“Sleep should not be negotiated every night, and there should be a consistent bedtime every night. Teach kids that sleep is a priority,” advised psychologist Reut Gruber, director of the Attention Behavior and Sleep Lab at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and associate professor in faculty of medicine at McGill University in Montreal.

“Make sure kids go to bed at a time that allows them sufficient sleep duration, even in the presence of competing activities and priorities,” she added.

How kids were taught about sleep

Researchers implemented a sleep education program in two groups of elementary school students in Montreal. The program consisted of six interactive two-hour classes taught by the students’ homeroom teachers about good bedtime routines, sleep hygiene, the consequences of poor sleep, barriers to good sleep and the importance of sleep. What's more, letters were sent home to parents reviewing the sleep lessons and school staff and leadership also attended training about the importance of sleep for health and academic performance.

In total, 71 students age 7 to 11 participated, with 46 undergoing the sleep intervention and 25 students from a third school in a control group.

Gruber said the researchers believe the program was effective because it was tailored to the developmental learning styles of the different ages included in the intervention, and teachers, administrators, parents, and children were all included in the implementation process as a target of the intervention itself.

“Teach kids that sleep is a priority.”

- Ruet Gruber, psychologist, McGill University

Better sleep helped kids achieve

At the end of the six-week program, the kids who participated in the program slept 18.2 minutes longer per night, fell asleep 2.3 minutes quicker, and slept for more of the time they spent in bed each night, compared with their sleep before participating in the sleep program.

Sleep did not change in the control group.

Report card grades in both math and English for the students who had undergone the sleep intervention improved by more than two percentage points (on a 100-point scale) compared to their grades on the report card preceding the intervention. Grades for the control group were slightly lower in math at the end of the study, but otherwise did not change.

Previous research has suggested that that amount of additional sleep (around 20 minutes) was associated with improved daytime functioning and performance in kids, Gruber said. But, other interventions designed to improved quality of sleep in kids have not documented improvements in grades -- and most were ineffective in actually improving sleep, she added.

“To our knowledge, this is the first intervention to document improvements in sleep duration in elementary school children using objective measures of sleep,” Gruber said.

Though the size of this study was fairly small and from just one area, Gruber said she expects the findings could be replicated as long as programs are conducted in collaboration with the community and tailored to the specific target audience. Potential barriers include a lack of time among teachers and students, difficulties in obtaining parental involvement and a lack of curricular time to implement this type of program, she said.

Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at sarah.digiulio@huffingtonpost.com.

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