Tips for Parents: Sleep and Learning
Burnham, M.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Melissa Burnham, who discusses the importance of sleep and its impact on student learning, memory, and performance.

This seminar focused on the importance of sleep and its impact on student learning, memory, and performance.

We watched two important videos to lead off the discussion:
Matt Walker Lecture:

Dr. Walker reviews his research on sleep, memory function, and emotion in the first link. This provides an excellent overview. His presentation style is quite accessible.

The Frontline video is focused on the teenage brain, and includes a good overview of the effects of sleep deprivation on teenagers’ performance.

I also provided an article focused on a review of research related to sleep and learning, available here:

What followed was a rich discussion related to the importance of sleep and the consequences of inadequate sleep. Participants had many questions related to their own children’s sleep and sought advice with regard to improving the quality of sleep among children whose sleep patterns were not typical.

Highlights of what was discussed:

  1. Sleep is important before learning: Having adequate sleep the night before is necessary for optimal learning the next day.

  2. Sleep is important after learning: Sleep plays a role in the consolidation of memories, so sleep after learning is just as important as adequate sleep prior to learning. In fact, even a nap following the learning of new information can be impactful.

  3. The teenage brain undergoes several changes during puberty that lead to differences in sleep patterns. It is normal and expected for teenagers to experience a “phase shift” of their circadian rhythms during puberty. That is, teens often do not get tired until much later in the evening and want to sleep in. Although some of this is caused by social factors (media, texting, computers, TV in the bedroom), some is certainly biologically driven. Working to change school start times in junior high and high school is an effective strategy for helping to work with this shift in biological rhythmicity rather than against it.

  4. Participants had questions related to their specific situations. Research-based advice was provided on topics such as: How to best facilitate sleep, how to establish a bedtime routine, how to encourage sleep in the teenager and/or the gifted student who spends much of his/her time on homework and reading well into the night.

    • Establishing a routine is essential, and the same routine should be followed, at around the same time, each night. This means maintaining as much consistency as possible between weekdays and weekends.
    • Establishing a rule about screens after a certain time of night is helpful. The light from a screen can suppress melatonin secretion, thereby suppressing one of the biological cues for bedtime.
    • Helping your child to understand the importance of sleep is essential to help them to establish healthy sleep patterns. Being a good role model is important here. Sleep is not a weakness, it is a necessity that will keep us all working optimally and will facilitate a high level of daytime performance.

Other resources:
Sleepfaring: A Journey through the Science of Sleep (by Jim Horne)
National Sleep Foundation:

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