For us to perform effectively, we need a minimum of 8 hours sleep per night. For many busy parents the idea of 8 hours sleep a night sounds like a holiday. For your children, it is a necessity.
Obviously, the main reason we sleep is to reenergize and recover our body, and mind, for the day ahead. However, sleep is actually part of the learning process. You could almost say that we sleep to learn.
While we are asleep, the brain is extremely active. It is during this time that the brain is consolidating the days learning. Your brain replays the day’s information thousands of times and begins the process of making concrete pathways in your working memory. It is from this working memory that your brain starts to transfer knowledge to your short-term memory.
When your child wakes the next morning, from a good nights sleep, they will then be able to more easily recall the learning from the day prior. Through repetition of this information, they will then start to cement this understanding into their short-term memory. This pattern of learning then continues with the ultimate goal, the transfer of knowledge to long-term memory.
By losing sleep, you learn less. You can expect that your attention span will suffer, your working memory will diminish, your logical reasoning will be lower and your ability to apply the knowledge learnt from the day prior will be lost. Lack of sleep will ultimately impact overall cognition and eliminate the potential benefit of new learning, therefore decreasing the ability to learn and retain information.
A great example of the importance sleep has on learning, was scientist, Dimitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev. Mendeleyev was responsible for the discovery of the Periodic Table of Elements. He came up with the idea in his sleep. Contemplating the nature of the universe while playing cards one evening, he fell asleep. When he awoke, he knew how all of the atoms in the universe were organized, and he promptly created his famous table. He put into practice the concept of “let’s sleep on it”.
Sleep is just one aspect of a healthy pattern of learning. Students who push to stay up just that little bit longer are actually doing themselves a disservice. You never know you may actually wake up with the answer.