Tonight’s Sleep Impacts Tomorrow’s Learning

The phrase “get a good night’s sleep” has always sounded like good advice to me. Let’s dig into a couple of questions: Why does getting enough sleep significantly impact children’s learning abilities? What is a good night’s sleep for children? 

Let's start with a brief “Executive Functioning” (EF) discussion. Academic literature often includes these components in the description of executive functioning.

  • Working memory: the ability to hold and manipulate information

  • Response inhibition: the ability to delay one’s behavior to engage in another

  • Cognitive flexibility: the ability to shift attention according to external needs

Whew! That is some academic language! I will rephrase in Elementary Principal speak.  Children use EF to pay attention, organize information, apply what they have already learned to what they are learning now, and make good choices. Developmentally, children's capabilities in these areas differ across grade levels but are necessary at the appropriate level at every grade.

Decades of research indicate that sleep deprivation negatively impacts executive functioning.  Recent research suggests the level of impact and the specific area of impact cannot be applied universally. This means the same amount of sleep loss for two individuals may yield different impacts, even over an extended time. Factors such as asthma, autism, and previous brain injury can increase the impact of sleep deprivation. Sleep loss impacts different individuals differently, but research indicates that sleep deprivation is not good for anyone and can be particularly harmful to normal child development.

Here are a few resources that address the impact of sleep deprivation on children.

US National Institute of Health

Harvard Gazette

How much sleep should children get? Here are some recommendations. Please take a look! You might be surprised!



If your child appears happy, healthy, is socializing well, and learning, some variance to the recommended times may not be an issue for them. If you have done the mental math already and realize that the amount of sleep your children are getting is significantly under these recommendations, here are some things to consider:

  • Gradually change your family’s night-time routines and include calming or mindfulness activities before bedtime.

  • Is it difficult for them to go to sleep?

  • Are they waking up frequently? (or if infants and toddlers, this may be appropriate)

  • Speak to your pediatrician about what you are noticing about your child’s sleep patterns.

Being aware of and monitor your child’s sleep patterns; the amount and quality of their sleep is an essential part of setting them up for success.


About the Author—

Charles Bellomy, Elementary School Principal