The role of sleep and learning for teenagers

Getting a great night sleep is essential for brain health and especially important when learning and studying. Researcher Chris Evans, believes the most important function of sleep is to allow your brain to consider the new things that have been learned that day. He suggests nsleep-on-books-1.10.12ew learnings are filed and consolidated in the memory system during sleep.

Teenagers usually need more sleep than adults as their brains and bodies are going through significant growth and change. It is recommend that teenagers get around 9 ¼ hours of sleep to be their best. Lack of sleep affects brain function including mood, concentration, memory and problem solving ability.

To get a great nights sleep here are four tips:

  1. Make your bedroom a haven for sleeping

It is essential to make your bedroom space calming and comfortable. The brain loves neat and tidy. Sleeping in an over busy and messy room can often stimulate the brain making it harder to relax, so tidy up unfinished work and clear the floor. Another tip is to turn your digital clock around so you cannot see the time. This is for two reasons; Firstly, the light shining in your room can stop the natural sleep process and secondly, you do not want to be continually checking the time and cause you stress because you are not sleeping. Ensure your room is on the cool side rather than hot. Studies show rooms 5-10 degrees lower than the average daytime temperature helps with sleep.

  1. Avoid TV or screens before bed

qThe effects of screens on the brain, before bed is well documented. While checking your phone, or reading on a devise just before bed might seem natural enough, it is not for your brain. A stream of phonons from the screen tells your brain it is not time to go to sleep. In turn, this prevents the secretion of Melatonin, the chemical responsible for sleep timing and blood pressure regulation. Even just the small glow of the phone screen when you check the time at night can be enough to interrupt sleep patterns. The suggestion from the experts is to shut all electronic devises off at around 9pm or an hour before you go to bed.

  1. Be mindful about what you eat or drink before bed.

Certain food can stimulate or diminish your ability to sleep. Foods to avoid before bed include spicy foods, caffeine and high fat foods. Instead choose foods that contain tryptophan such as turkey, eggs and milk which can help promote sleep. Nutritionist, Jessica Redmond, suggests it is best to avoid eating large meals in the hours leading up to bedtime. If you have to eat right before bed, eat a small meal or pre-portioned snack.

  1. Start a bedtime routine

Original-design-bed-lighting-small-book-light-font-b-lamp-b-font-font-b-bedside-bDim the lights while you get ready for bed, or turn off bright overhead lamps and switch to a soft, bedside lamp. Your body is programmed to sleep when it’s dark. Attempt to go to bed at the same time every night. Choose a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. Try not to break this routine on weekends when it may be tempting to stay up late. If you want to change your bedtime, help your body adjust by making the change in small daily increments, such as 15 minutes earlier or later each day.

It can be tempting to burn the candle at both ends while studying however if you get adequate sleep it can maximise the learning you do while you are studying.


FREE INFOGRAPHIC: For a colourful one page infographic on the pros and cons of sleep, please email me at 🙂


POST SCRIPT: While this article has been written for teens studying I believe (and the research points to) these ideas are equally valid for adults.

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Published on Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015, under Study Skills

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

4 Responses to “The role of sleep and learning for teenagers”

  1. Umi abdul manaf says:

    There is also what is known as power nap and it is best to be taken in the afternoon. This will allow you to rejuvernate your energy. It doesnt take long. A half hour sleep is sufficient. Most religious school in makaysia will practice this cat nap or power nap cos it will give u the energy to carry on through the nite!!

    • Karen Boyes says:

      That is interesting Umi – do they students sleep or is a form on meditation? Does the teacher play music or is it silent? I’m intrigued about this – do they shift the furniture and sleep on the floor, on mats?? So many questions!!

  2. Margaret Walker says:

    Hi Karen, I was very interested to read your article as I have been a strong advocate for sleep as an aid to learning. I have noticed that the kids in my classes who sleep for 12 hours are buzzing and absolutely ready to have their brains active as soon as they come to school. You could say their brains are ready to be filled up again although this is not what we do these days! My eldest child was also a 12 hour sleeper and she was always ready to go with her learning and ended up as a high achiever.

  3. Umi abdul manaf says:

    Dear karen. The time to sleep is before they do the afternoon prayers and its supposed to be silent and they seep on the floor of the congregation room. Of cos the male n female students will be put in separate rooms. These are for boarding school children. For others they sleep where they are comfortable with; in bed, on the sofa whereever but the short nap will give them energy to work in the afternoon and wake up in the wee hours to perform their prayers. Thats the practice of our peophet muhammad peace be upon him and thus it is highly recommended to follow. But sometimes as a lecturer (myself in particular) i have to find the time to do that cos sometimes the schedule of the classes are impossible but as much as possible we will try to steal few minutes for the precious power nap. If you were to google power nap you will find a number of research carried out in the USA on this. Hope these answers ur question. Good to be chatting here with you. Rainbow and sunshine. Cheers

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