Research Shows Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Education: According to experts, more than half of teenagers in the UK may be sleep deprived. The phenomenon is due in part to changing to hormone levels which naturally make teenagers stay up longer and rise later, but many also believe that the increased use of digital screens, such as smartphones, tablets and console gaming systems is causing additional detrimental effects. Researchers argue that having an electronic light so close to the face, as is often the case with the above technologies, actually tells the brain to stay awake – meaning that even once the device is turned off, sleep may take longer than usual to come.
According to Russell Foster, Oxford University’s Professor of Circadian Neuroscience, sleep is a vitally important part of life and yet it is ignored as part of our fundamental biology. Professor Foster cites teenagers as a ‘classic example’ of a group where more sleep could ‘enhance enormously the quality of life and, indeed, the educational performance.’ Research has suggested that teenagers require around 9 hours of sleep in order to function properly.
More specifically, in terms of education, research from Boston College in Massachusetts suggests that internationally, children who have more sleep perform better in maths, science and literacy. The research looked at over 900,000 pupils and their parents and teachers in fifty countries and suggests that the United States, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia were the countries where the highest proportion of children were sleep deprived in class – with England coming in 7th. In the United States, almost three quarters (73%) of children aged 9-10 were considered sleep deprived, and this figure rose to four in five (80%) amongst 13-14 year olds. The average figures across all the countries included in the study were 47% for primary pupils and 57% for secondary pupils.
This lack of sleep has been described by the experts as a ‘serious barrier to learning’. Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, director of the Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey, suggested that sleep deprivation was a problem for all the key aspects of learning – without sleep, the brain can struggle to absorb and retain ideas. In addition, lack of sleep leaves pupils more emotionally volatile and more likely to be disruptive in a classroom environment.
Finally, researchers also suggested that the levels of sleep deprivation being shown in the study meant that teachers were having to ‘dumb-down’ lessons in order to ensure children remained as engaged as possible and were taking in their points. Chad Minnich, based at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, stated that:
‘Teachers are having to modify their instruction based on those children who are suffering from a lack of sleep…[those children] are driving down instruction.’
The implication being that even the children who are getting enough hours of rest each night are suffering due to the fact that their peers cannot keep pace with them in the classroom.
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