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Publication Date : 29-07-2013
Late nights and extended bedtimes can blunt young children’s minds, stunting their ability to learn
When was the last time you looked for monsters under the bed of your scared child while wishing them goodnight? Perhaps for those, whose children have grown up now to be teens, checking for monsters under the bed has become a redundant ritual. Nowadays, many children have largely become fond of staying up late at nights and turning into night birds. They spend time doing things, which, according to them, can’t be held to be done the next day. Late nights and extended bedtimes, however, can blunt young children’s minds, stunting their ability to learn according to research.
A UK study shows that lack of sleep may disrupt natural body rhythms and impairs how well the brain learns new information. Cognitive performances of children are largely affected by their sleeping habits and in the study, children who never had regular bedtimes tended to fare worse than their peers in terms of test scores for math, reading and spatial awareness. Family backgrounds and chaotic family settings also bring about disruption in the sleeping pattern of the children, which gradually becomes erratic and turns into a bad habit. (Journal of Epidemiological and Community Health).
Fatema Akhter teaches O and A level Biology, and is a mother of three children. She says, “It is a normal scene to see sleepy pupils in a class. When a young, exhausted and sleepy mind, leaves home to come to school in the morning, the brain refuses to receive any information. Many children are misjudged by teachers in the classroom because when drowsy, the child tends to get bitter and fails to bring about proper interaction. The body has a biological clock, and it is necessary for a child to maintain bedtime between 9 o’clock to 12'o clock. If the body is forcefully kept awake after these hours, extra adrenaline is secreted. On the other hand during the day, when the body is deprived of enough sleep for school hours, more adrenaline is secreted. This is a cause of blood pressure rising and increased cholesterol level.” She also says that some kids can just sleep with their eyes wide open because their mind is shut, learning abilities therefore are hampered. Visual memory also tends to degrade as the brain becomes slow in learning.
Children who sleep late don’t get proper sleep when they have to be awakened for school early in the morning. When they experience sudden jerks, like being pulled off the bed, or suddenly being put under the shower needing to get up abruptly, the body tends to be in shock. Therefore, tending to wake up on your own, giving your body some time to wake up fully is a healthy habit, which requires an early bedtime routine. In urban areas, the busy lifestyle creates a habit of staying up late, because many teenagers claim that the only time they can find some peace and silence is at night. On the other hand, school hours at 6am in the morning for young learners, for instance children aged three to five, highly disrupts their sleeping cycles. Since these children need at least ten to twelve hours of sleep, going to bed at 6pm does not look like a feasible option. Many teens suffer from treatable sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, insomnia, restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea. Their quality of sleep worsens as some teens typically stay up late during workdays and sleep late on weekends.
Parveen Huque, associate professor in the Psychology Department of Dhaka University, says that waking up late in the morning can never compensate for the sleep that is lost when someone stays up late. She also says a mind devoid of enough sleep is unable to focus and analyse complex situations. Staying up late also causes acidity in the stomach, and hunger pangs at night leading to unhealthy eating, which will contribute to weight gain.
Rafid Ahmed has recently sat for his A level exams and according to his doctor, he is an insomniac. On asking whether he gets uninterrupted sleep or not, he replied, “I do, for five to six hours. But that is after 5am in the morning because I barely fall asleep before that.” His doctor prescribes him some medicines to sleep but recommends taking them only if he cannot sleep at all. He usually studies during the late hours, or just grabs a movie to watch and browses Youtube.
Ayman is a student who tends to get very exhausted if he doesn’t get proper sleep at night, for about seven hours. If he runs out of things to do, like watching movies or during no exams, he goes to bed at 1am. Less than three hours sleep drives away all his ability to concentrate and therefore tending to be sleepy all day is natural.
Vigilance drifts away from a sleep deprived brain, because weary neurons in the brain no longer work properly to coordinate information. Without adequate rest and sleep, we lose our ability to accurately remember any previously learned information. When children don’t focus, they barely learn anything, or even can think properly. A study showed that children who took naps right after studying, had more ability to remember what they learnt compared to the ones that got no shuteye. It is beneficial to review study notes right before bedtime in order to remember better. Sleep itself has a role in consolidation (stabilisation of memory) which is essential for taking in new information. During sleep, the neural connections strengthen to form out memory, neurons fire properly afterwards and the muscles are rested, which help children to recall. Judgement becomes impaired if not enough sleep is taken and when information tend to just gather up in the brain, deciphering information becomes a tedious task.
It is important to abstain from acquiring habits of staying up late at night. The brain can’t keep on without sleep. And who doesn’t like to sleep? The moment when it finally arrives and you just cannot keep your eyes open anymore, it is indeed a moment of bliss. Just make sure you go to bed a little earlier than usual, so that you get a goodnight’s sleep, waking up in the morning feeling fresher than ever.