Is Lack of Sleep Making Your Kid Stupid? / by Anne Kreamer

My youngest child is slogging through the most sleepless year of her life. She’s a senior in high school trying to keep her head above water – like all kids her age, she’s got SATs and college applications and extracurricular activities and regular old classes. It’s intense and unrelenting and robs her of sleep every single night. I often wake up to find her light still on, the poor kid asleep with her books open. After five or six hours of sleep, she gamely tumbles down to breakfast and is out the door before 7 a.m. to get to school.

And she’s no different from most high school kids across the country. According to a recent piece by Po Bronson in New York Magazine, it’s a national crisis.

Even though most parents think their kid is getting enough sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation, "60 percent of high school students report extreme daytime sleepiness."  And in a different study, some 25 percent of kids believe their grades have dropped because of a lack of sleep.

Bronson reports that from elementary school through high school, kids now get about an hour a night less of sleep than they did in the 1970s, when I was in high school.

"Because children’s brains are a work-in-progress until the age of 21, and because much of that work is done while a child is asleep, this lost hour appears to have an exponential impact on children that it simply doesn’t have on adults."

A survey of 7,000 high school students conducted by Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom of the University of Minnesota, and a different study by Mary Carskadon of Brown University of 3,000 Rhode Island high school students, found that kids who got A's averaged about 15 minutes more sleep per night of sleep than the kids who got B’s and B students averaged about 11 minutes more of sleep per night than those who got C’s. Who knows how much is cause and how much is effect, but that is a very big deal.

Some school systems are getting smart about sleep deprivation and starting school days later. In Edina, Minnesota, the results were mind blowing. "In the year preceding the time change" from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., according to Bronson, "math and verbal SAT scores for the top 10 percent of Edina’s students averaged 1288. A year later, the top 10 percent averaged 1500, an increase that couldn’t be attributed to any other variable. 'Truly flabbergasting,' said Brian O’Reilly, the College Board’s executive director for SAT Program Relations, on hearing the results."

A school district in Lexington, Kentucky, that moved their start time an hour later was able to report a 16 percent reduction in teenage car accidents.

I knew my daughter wasn’t getting enough sleep but I never imagined how much it might be costing her. Instead of tutors, all our kids might need to excel is a little more sleep. How refreshing that something so elemental has such a big benefit.   Too bad I hadn’t read the piece before my daughter’s recent battery of SATs.