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When Poor Sleep Impacts Learning

Tired boy working on hard homework

We all know how a poor night’s sleep impacts us the next day: difficulty paying attention, crankiness, and brain fog are just some of the typical reactions we may feel. Children who suffer from sleep deficiency may also misbehave, have trouble reading emotions, and perform poorly in academics. And when a student also has special needs, sleep problems can impede the work of the critical interventions and therapy that helps students to succeed. Therefore, it is important for schools and parents alike to watch for signs of sleep deprivation, address the conditions that lead to poor sleep, and even potentially collaborate with a physician or psychologist to assess medical or psychological components of the problem.

In a recent Multibriefs article, Howard Margolis suggests that parents educate themselves about special education rights and sleep problems, consult with a board-certified sleep therapist, and work collaboratively with their child’s school. For example, subject-stacking cognitively taxing courses may be too much. Consider the demands of taking math, science, reading, writing, and then going to P.E. to a schedule where gym comes in the middle of those academic subjects, giving the student a cognitive break. Then, make sure that this is addressed in the IEP.

There is also much schools can do to help parents, such as:

  • Provide information on sleep problems and strategies
  • Educate parents on optimal sleep conditions and give practical suggestions
  • Consult with behavioral experts
  • Provide a medical evaluation of the student
  • Have a psychologist evaluate the student
  • Involve your school’s social worker

Margolis explains all of these in detail in his article, and describes how sleep is “critical to feeling good and being able to function normally. It helps to keep your body healthy by regulating immune function and temperature, and it is also essential for maintaining mood, constructing memories, updating your general world knowledge and helping you to take an overview of difficult problems.”

So let’s make sure we all get our Zzzzzz’s, and help kids to get theirs!

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