How Sleep Affects Student’s Grades and Attendance

Mary Sweeney - Updated on July 12th, 2023

The pressure that children face today in their academic worlds is astronomical. Colleges are getting more competitive by the day, extracurricular activities and sports abound, and homework commitments are at times college-level. In the midst of all this chaos, kids are expected to get enough sleep so that they can perform at the levels required to achieve. How, as a parent, can you help your child succeed? Helping them get the sleep they need is priority number one.

How Much Sleep Does My Child Need?

Would you be surprised to hear that 44% of school-aged children aren’t getting the sleep that they need to grow and function optimally? When kids don’t get enough sleep, they may not be able to focus fully, may fall asleep in class, and may not be able to adequately manage their emotions or behavior throughout the day. What does that mean? It means their health and academic success may be affected. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of how much sleep your child needs by age group according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  1. Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
  2. Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis
  3. Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours

No matter what age we are, the sleep cycle works in the same way. Where adults and children differ, however, is in the amount of sleep and number of sleep cycles necessary for optimal daytime functioning. The average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, but for children that number is significantly different. If your child isn’t getting the recommended amount of sleep per night, their academic performance is likely to suffer.

Sleep and Academic Success

Children who do not get an adequate amount of sleep on school nights are much more likely to fall asleep in class, not complete homework assignments with quality work, and struggle with academic and social success. In a recent study of 1,000 children, researchers found that kids who had a hard time falling and staying asleep were much more likely to have difficulties in academic performance. In another study looking at high school students, those with higher grade point averages reported earlier bedtimes and more sleep time than their counterparts. Furthermore, the study showed that students with lower grades were going to bed later on weekends as well. 

With many children facing school start times of 7:30 am or perhaps earlier, lack of sleep can quickly become an issue. The American Academy of Pediatrics has published a position paper in favor of later school start times to accommodate these inevitable biological changes. With later start times, kids would be able to wake up when their body says they’re supposed to, making them less likely to fall asleep in class, more able to focus, and to achieve better grades and higher standardized test scores. If kids are getting more sleep, they are more alert. When they’re more alert, they are able to complete homework and other tasks in less time than if they are sleep-deprived and less alert. This movement has a growing base of supporters, but it comes with its own unique set of challenges. Although later start times would mean that kids could wake up later and theoretically get more sleep, that doesn’t mean that they would actually get more sleep. Furthermore, with young children who are already early risers, parents may struggle to get their children to bed at a reasonable hour. They would have to push bedtime back even earlier, and many parents may not even be home from work by the time their child needs to go to sleep.

Tips to Help Your Child Sleep

If your child is 3-5 years old:

Have a routine. You’ve likely heard that establishing a bedtime routine is incredibly important in toddlerhood – and it doesn’t stop there. Set a bedtime that you can stick to on a regular basis, read stories, sing songs, and have a little quiet cuddle time before bed. Kids crave routine and consistency, and having a routine will help your child to get quality sleep each night. It’s okay if you can’t stick to the same routine every night, so don’t worry if you’re going on vacation or have an occasional late night. There will always be exceptions, and a few breaks in the routine here and there won’t completely change your child’s sleep pattern.

Consider dropping the afternoon nap. If your child isn’t tired or is refusing to nap, don’t force it. Encourage your child to rest quietly, read books, or simply lie down. They don’t have to go to sleep, but a small rest period can do wonders for your child’s focus and energy levels. 

Monitor and limit screen time. Current screen time recommendations for your preschool or kindergarten-age child is no more than 1 hour of supervised activity on a device per day. Try to stick to this recommendation as best you can, and make sure that the hour of screen time isn’t happening right before bedtime. The blue light coming from screens can interfere with the body’s natural production of melatonin, the hormone that tells your body when it’s time to fall asleep. This can make it more difficult for your little one to fall and stay asleep.

If your child is 6-12 years old:

Set a reasonable bedtime. Bedtimes for this age group can vary – be sure you are setting a bedtime that accommodates your child’s sleep needs, while still giving them the ability to let loose and relax after their school day. 

Turn the screens off. At this age, many children are likely to have their own electronic devices. Set clear ground rules early on and consider storing their device overnight in another room of the house that’s not their bedroom. In addition to teaching them moderation, you’ll also be cutting down on the effects of blue light emission from screens that may interfere with quality sleep cycles.

Find a balance between schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Schoolwork and after-school activities can sometimes run long into a school night, keeping children up later than they need to be to finish up last-minute homework or reading. If you find that your child is struggling to stay awake in school or is falling behind on their academic performance, talk to them! Evaluate the number of activities they’re participating in to see if there’s any room to cut back.

If your child is 12-17 years old:

Set limits for screens. Just like smaller children, your teenager’s sleep can be affected by the blue light coming from electronic devices. Make sure you are setting limits on their use during after-school and evening hours, and consider having them leave their device in an area of the house that’s not their bedroom. That will discourage them from reaching for it after they’ve gotten into bed and are trying to fall asleep.

Encourage an afternoon nap if they’re tired. A small 45-minute nap after school can give your teen the energy they need to focus on homework and other after-school activities. However, be sure that the nap doesn’t last longer than that – it may interfere with falling asleep later that night.

Are they doing too much? Today’s teenagers are pressured to load their pre-college resumes with clubs, sports, and other activities. Check in with your child to ensure that they have an adequate amount of time to complete their homework and other academic assignments. Do they have enough time to complete those assignments and participate in all of their extracurricular activities AND get enough quality sleep? If not, it may be time to reevaluate.

Talk to your teen. With the pressure to perform academically and many after-school activities, your teenager may be silently overwhelmed. Keep an open line of communication with your child and check in periodically to make sure they’re not overloading themselves with activities. Their health comes first, and academic success will follow.

Each age group comes with a unique set of challenges in getting a quality night’s sleep. As parents, your number one job is to make sure your child is healthy and helping them get the sleep they need will go a long way in promoting a healthy lifestyle. Academic success is not completely dependent on a good night’s sleep, but it sure goes a long way in paving the road to high achieving in school.

This is not an exhaustive list of ways to help your child get the sleep they need. For more information, see the below resources that were used in the creation of this guide.

References and Continued Reading