Sleep. What a luxury, as I write this at 6:00 in the morning on a Saturday, following an energetic wake-up from my 3-year-old. Coffee is my longtime friend, and the days are gone that I sleep in until a time of my choice.

So, why write about sleep if it’s something that I don’t seem to get enough of in my own life?

Though highly beneficial for adults, sleep for a child under the age of 21 is absolutely crucial to their growth and happiness. A lack of sleep actually causes irreversible, permanent changes in the formation of a child’s growing brain. Growth hormones are sleep-activated and continue to do their hard work until age 21, so if sleep isn’t currently important to how you view your child’s success, it should be.

One of my favorite child psychology books, NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, presents a chapter on scientific research on sleep. Following are some findings and studies discussed in the book:

  • Less than 8 hours of sleep in teenagers doubles the risk for clinical depression.
  • Child obesity is now thought to be caused by lack of sleep, not by sedentary activity such as sitting and watching TV (although those don’t help).
  • A group of sixth-grade children were randomly assigned to get an hour less sleep than normal for three days compared to a control group. After the three days, both groups were given a cognitive aptitude test. The sleep-deprived children lost the equivalent of 2 years of cognitive maturation. In essence, with one hour less of sleep, a mildly sleep-deprived sixth-grader will perform at the cognitive level of a fourth-grader.
  • Two studies looked at the cost of “sleep-shifting,” a common occurrence where children go to sleep later than usual, as on weekends. They found that every hour later that their sleep schedule was shifted cost them an average of 7 points on a standard IQ test.
  • A study looking at high school sleep schedules found that “A” students got an average of 15 minutes more sleep compared to “B” students who, in turn, got 15 minutes more compared to “C” students.

The CDC recommends 11-12 hours of sleep each night for preschool-aged children; at least 10 hours per night for school-aged children; 9-10 hours for teenagers; and 7-8 hours for adults.

Gently guide your child to bed at an earlier hour, and see a happier, calmer, more motivated student!

By Jennifer Stec

Ms. Stec is our school counselor.