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Sleep Apnea and Standardized Testing

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It’s nearly spring, and for many American students, that means that we’re approaching the season of standardized testing.  Standardized testing is a big stressor for many families. State-level tests can sometimes determine whether a child advances to the next grade, or whether the local school will receive adequate funding.  Big tests like the SAT or ACT or AP tests can make or break a student’s college and career dreams.

Parents spend time and money on preparation for these big tests, but they may be overlooking an important piece to the puzzle.  If you want your student to succeed, you should take a look at their sleep habits.

What Does Science Say about Sleep and Test Scores?

Your children’s school may urge you to ensure that the kids get good sleep in the days leading up to the standardized test.  Why?  Because several studies have shown a link between sleep and exam scores.; At Baylor University in Texas, one professor offered students extra credit in the class if they slept 8 hours a night in the week before the exam.  He had the students where trackers to record their sleep.  Students who got adequate sleep outscored those who did not.  When he repeated the test with students from another department, he got the same results.   The results were especially useful to the students. Many felt like their brains were working properly for the first time in their college careers.  Better sleep improved their ability to study and learn.

In a larger study, researchers at MIT tracked students and sleep. They found that students saw the greatest improvement in test scores when they slept well for a full month before an exam.  Duration of sleep (greater than 8 hours), quality of sleep (proper cycling through all sleep stages) and consistency of sleep (sleeping nightly for a month) all played an important role in student outcomes.

How Can I Use This Information to Improve My Child’s Test Scores?

If your child isn't getting an age-appropriate amount of sleep, you may need to address issues with sleep hygiene.  Your school-aged child needs 9-11 hours of sleep a night, and your teen needs at least 8-10.  If your child isn’t getting enough sleep, you may need to consider earlier bedtimes and dinner times, less screen time, or even cutting back on extracurricular  activities.

If your child is in bed for the appropriate amount of time but still wakes tired and has trouble learning, you may have a child suffering from sleep-disordered breathing.  See a physician or a dentist trained in screening for pediatric sleep issues to find out what your treatment options are.  In the Houston area, Dr. Dassani is a passionate advocate for healthier sleep and happier kids.