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    Poor sleep may affect academic achievement in children: Study

    By NCVC Staff | Published on Oct 10, 2023

    Sleep is crucial for overall well-being, and a new study has shed light on its impact on academic achievement in children, particularly those from low socioeconomic backgrounds and communities of color. The study, conducted by researchers at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Texas at Austin, explored the relationship between sleep, classroom behavior, and academic performance among primarily Black children growing up in historically disinvested neighborhoods.

    The Study Findings

    The research, published in the Child Development journal, revealed that poor sleep health can disproportionately affect children from families of low socioeconomic status, putting them at risk for behavior problems and lower academic performance. The study highlights the importance of incorporating standard measures of both classroom behavior and academic achievement in sleep studies.

    According to the findings, higher levels of sleepiness reported by teachers were associated with lower adaptive behaviors and increased behavior problems in first-grade students. Additionally, increased sleepiness predicted lower academic achievement in second grade. Bedtime resistance and disordered breathing, as reported by parents, were also linked to poorer academic performance in second grade.

    The Importance of Sleep Habits for School Success

    Alexandra Ursache, an assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, emphasized the significance of educating parents and teachers about fostering positive sleep habits in young children. She believes that encouraging teachers to share their observations of children’s sleepiness with parents in a collaborative and culturally-affirming manner can raise awareness of its impact on learning.

    The study involved predominantly Black first-grade girls and boys, with more than half coming from immigrant families. These children attended schools in historically disinvested neighborhoods in New York City.

    Assessments Conducted in the Study

    The researchers assessed children in first and second grade (around ages 6 and 7) on several factors:

    1. Sleep Health and Sleep Disorder Symptoms: Parents completed a questionnaire on their children’s bedtime resistance, sleep duration, disordered breathing, daytime sleepiness, and sleep onset delay. Teachers also reported on their students’ daytime sleepiness.
    2. Classroom Behavior: Observers from the research team used a coding system to evaluate students’ adaptive behaviors (such as active engagement, listening, nodding, sitting up, and working on tasks) and problem behaviors (behavioral or emotional issues).
    3. Academic Achievement: Trained research assistants administered a standardized academic achievement assessment to evaluate reading, math, and writing abilities in second grade.

    Promoting Sleep Health

    Alicia Chung, an assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, stressed that sleep is a vital component of healthy development in children. She highlighted that children of color face an increased risk of sleep problems and undetected sleep disorders, which can subsequently lead to sleepiness in school, behavior problems, decreased engagement, and lower academic achievement.

    To address these concerns, Rebecca Robbins, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, suggested the development of a sleep health curriculum. Such a curriculum could educate teachers and parents about the importance of promoting good sleep habits in children, ultimately improving their overall well-being and academic performance.

    Limitations and Future Considerations

    The study authors acknowledged that the sleep measures relied on reports from parents and teachers rather than objective, standardized assessments. They also recognized that inherent bias may have influenced the ratings of sleepiness in Black or African American children.

    While the research controlled for various important factors and examined longitudinal relationships with academic achievement, it cannot make strong causal claims without a research design that intentionally manipulates sleep behavior. For instance, randomly assigning families to participate in a sleep health intervention would provide stronger evidence of the relationship between sleep health and classroom behavior or achievement.

    It’s worth noting that this study specifically focused on primarily Black children in disinvested neighborhoods and may not be generalizable to Latinx children or other populations of children of color. Further research is necessary to better understand the broader implications of sleep health on academic achievement across various demographic groups.

    In conclusion, this study highlights the crucial role of sleep in children’s academic achievement and underscores the need for comprehensive sleep health interventions and education for parents and teachers. By prioritizing good sleep habits, we can support children’s overall well-being and maximize their potential for academic success.

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