3-15 years

A good night’s sleep is good for your child’s learning during the day, because it helps him concentrate and remember things. But if your child has sleep problems, this can affect how well he learns.

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About sleep and learning

Good-quality sleep helps your child concentrate, remember things and behave well. This helps her to be a successful learner.

Poor sleep or not enough sleep affects concentration, memory and behaviour, making it harder for your child to learn. Children who don’t sleep well are more likely to feel sleepy at school during the day and to have difficulties with learning.

Concentration
Children who are sleepy have trouble concentrating during the day. If your child can’t keep his attention on what he’s trying to learn, whether it’s climbing a tree at the park or singing a song at school, it will affect his learning.

Memory
Remembering things is part of learning. For example, if your child is tired, it’s harder for her to remember basic things like how to spell words, how to do maths calculations, or where to find information in a book or on the internet. It’s also harder for her to remember how to do things like playing a musical instrument.

Our brains create and strengthen different types of memory in different sleep cycles. For example, just before your child wakes in the morning, his brain uses the last stages of REM sleep to sort and store memories and information from the previous day and get ready for the day ahead.

Behaviour
Sleepy children tend to have more problems with behaviour at preschool or school – and at home too!

For example, a sleepy child might not cooperate in class or have difficulty following the teacher’s instructions. A sleepy child might miss out on learning because the teacher is busy managing her behaviour. She might also miss out on playing with other children if they don’t like the way she’s behaving. 

If your child is having problems with his concentration, memory or behaviour, checking his sleep is a good place to start. If you’re worried, or the problems go on for more than 2-4 weeks, talk to your GP or child and family health nurse.

Working on sleep problems

Lots of children have sleep problems, which you can often manage with simple behaviour strategies.

A good place to start with sleep problems is your child’s sleep habits. Sometimes changing both daytime and night-time habits can make a big difference to your child’s sleep. For example, you might be able to reset your child’s body clock with a regular bedtime routine, morning sunlight, regular exercise and a healthy diet.

See your GP if you think your child’s sleep problems might be related to a medical condition or you’re worried your child might have a persistent sleep problem.

About 50% of sleep problems that start before a child starts school continue into the early years of school. You can support your child’s learning by dealing with sleep problems as they come up and helping your child develop good sleep habits.

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Last updated or reviewed
26-07-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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