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Sleep, are you maximising your learning potential?

The importance of sleep to maximise learning potential

When schools eventually resume it will be pivotal to make learning as efficient as possible to catch up and get learning back on track! Sleep could be a key component to the quality of this learning, and with just a few tweaks, your child could take some big steps towards fulfilling their potential!

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep is fundamental in physical and psychological health, alongside maintaining a balanced diet and doing regular exercise. The sleep foundation discusses that despite many believing sleep is a time where the body and mind shuts off, it’s actually “an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs”. Lack of sleep has also been linked with many negative consequences. In the short-term, this can include fatigue, a short temper and mood instability. While in the long-term, the severity increases, including conditions such as obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Sleep cycles

Very young children typically require 11 to 14 hours of sleep per night, while school age children need between 9 to 11 hours. As children turn into teenagers, the requirement drops to between 8 to 10 hours. Finally, adults require between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. During sleep, our bodies naturally cycle between different ‘sleep cycles’ which serve different functions.

Stage One: Just after falling asleep, your brain will begin to produce what are called alpha and theta waves, during which, your eye movements will begin to slow down. This portion of sleep is extremely brief and only lasts a few minutes. Known as the ‘light stage’, its primary function is to prepare you to fall into a deeper sleep. However, you’re typically very ease to wake in this stage!

Stage Two: The next stage is also fairly light, here your brain begins to produce sudden increases in brain wave frequency known as sleep spindles. Then brain waves slow down.

Stages Three & Four: Next, we have stages in the beginning of deep sleep, where the brain begins to produce slower delta waves. You won’t experience any eye movement or muscle activity. Here you are less likely to be awakened. During this stage, your body repairs muscles and tissues, stimulates growth and development, boosts immune function, and builds up energy for the next day.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep: REM sleep usually occurs roughly 90 minutes after initially falling asleep, and each REM stage can last up to an hour. An average adult has five to six REM cycles each night. During this final phase of sleep, your brain becomes more active. This is when most dreaming occurs. REM sleep plays an important role in learning and memory function since this is when your brain consolidates and processes information from the day before so that it can be stored in your long-term memory.

More information can be found about sleep cycles here

The importance of routine

So now we’ve learnt about the importance of sleep and the various stages during a typical night, how can we achieve high-quality sleep? Well, a huge part of sleep quality depends on your night-time routine.

  1. Reduce blue light exposure in the evening. Mobile phones and other screens emit blue light which tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime, disturbing your ability to relax and prepare for deep sleep
  2. Go to sleep at the same time each day. Your body and mind work using circadian rhythm functions, which are aligned to sunset and sunrise! If you can build a habit of sleeping at consistent times, your body will begin to optimise, and soon you won’t even need an alarm!
  3. Relax and clear your head in the evening. Meditation is perfect for this, but so are relaxing, screen-free activities like drawing and reading. Doing simple tasks such as the washing up, tidying and preparing your bag for the morning is also effective!

Tips and Tricks

There are many other ways to improve the quality of sleep which may require some simple changes in your life!

  1. Block out all light from your bedroom, this includes tiny LED lights from electronic devices. Using a blackout blind can be highly effective in achieving this!
  2. Also, block out all noise! If you live in a noisy house or area you may need to purchase some earplugs
  3. As a rule, it’s a bad idea to do any kind of work while in bed, as this will cause you to associate your bed with stress. Your bed needs to be the place you go to relax!
  4. Keeping your bedroom tidy and clean can also help with making it a relaxing place!

How can this affect learning?

The quality of learning on a given day is determined by many factors. Although sleep is by no means the most significant of these factors, poor sleep can seriously hamper the chances of any information being retained! A student being happy, healthy, and an alert means they are ready to learn, resulting in them being actively engaged in lessons, rather than just ‘being there’. Higher quality sleep will prove to be even more important during exam periods, as students must focus intensely, recall key pieces of information, and critically contemplate questions for extended periods.


We hope this article will be beneficial in either helping yourself or your child! If you would like to be sent more interesting articles like this, please consider subscribing here! We’d love for you to become the latest member of our community.


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