Sleep & Memory

  • What we do know that as you continue to sleep deprive someone, their neurocognitive abilities, their ability to perform tasks, to use their memory, goes down.

    – Jeffrey Durmer, M.D., Sleep Specialist

    For 17-year-old Bobby Jackson, a typical weekday starts at 6:30, when the alarm rings. Then after a 7-hour school day, there’s an afternoon football practice, then an evening workout.

    Once he’s home, there’s dinner, homework, a chat with a friend, some time to watch some television, and some time online. “Typically during the week I’m not in bed till 11:30, 12 even later,” he says.

    It all adds up to far less than the 9 hours of sleep doctors recommend. “Like 9 hours of sleep is unheard of unless it’s on the weekend,” he says.

    He’s not alone. The average teen sleeps about 7 hours a night. That’s more than 2 hours less than a good night’s sleep, and slightly less than kids slept five years ago. “I stay up till 12 o’clock or 1, and I miss a whole bunch of sleep and I don’t have time to recover from it,” says 17-year-old Jason Brothers.

    And, according to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania, that lack of sleep can affect a students’ memory and hinder their performance in school.

    “What we do know that as you continue to sleep deprive someone, their neurocognitive abilities, their ability to perform tasks, to use their memory, goes down,” says Jeffrey Durmer, M.D. Sleep Specialist, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

    “Well I haven’t been doing as well with my grades as I used to,” says Jason.

    “I do sometimes fall asleep in class cause I’m always tired,” Bobby says.

    Experts say one way to get kids to bed earlier is to avoid the bright lights of television and computer screens close to bedtime… and also help your kids figure out what’s important.

    “One realistic thing parents can do is work with their kids to prioritize and limit their activities. And try not to push it all the way into the middle of the night,” says Dr. Durmer.

    Sleepy Teens

    A study performed by researchers at Stanford University found that teenagers require approximately one to two hours more sleep than 9- and 10-year-olds, who only require about eight hours of sleep. This goes against the school of thought that allows older kids to stay up later. Parents may want to be on the lookout for the following things, which could be caused from sleep deprivation:

    • Difficulty waking in the morning
    • Irritability in the afternoon
    • Falling asleep during the day
    • Oversleeping on the weekend
    • Having difficulty remembering or concentrating
    • Waking up often and having trouble going back to sleep

    Sleep deprivation also can lead to extreme moodiness, poor performance in school and depression. Teens who aren’t getting enough sleep also have a higher risk of having car accidents because of falling asleep behind the wheel.

    As the lives of children seem to be getting busier, their sleeping habits may be one of the first things impacted. Sleep, though being something that often gets sacrificed, is actually one of the most important things in a child’s life. Here are some suggestions about sleep:

    • Sleep is as important as food and air. Quantity and quality are very important. Most people need between seven-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half hours of uninterrupted sleep. If you want to press the snooze alarm in the morning you are not getting the sleep you need. This could be due to not enough time in bed, external disturbances or a sleep disorder.
    • Keep regular hours. Try to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every day. Getting up at the same time is most important. Getting bright light, like the sun, when you get up will also help. Try to go to bed only when you are sleepy. Bright light in the morning at a regular time should help you feel sleepy at the same time every night.
    • Stay away from stimulants like caffeine. This will help you get deep sleep, which is most refreshing. If you take any caffeine, take it in the morning. Avoid all stimulants in the evening, including chocolate, caffeinated sodas and caffeinated teas. They will delay sleep and increase awakenings during the night.
    • Use the bed just for sleeping. Avoid watching television, using laptop computers or reading in bed. Bright light from these activities and subject matter may inhibit sleep. If it helps to read before sleeping, make sure you use a very small wattage bulb to read. A 15-watt bulb should be enough.
    • Avoid bright light around the house before bed. Using dimmer switches in living rooms and bathrooms before bed can be helpful. Dimmer switches can be set to maximum brightness for morning routines.
    • Don’t stress if you feel you are not getting enough sleep. It will just make matters worse. Know you will sleep eventually.
    • Avoid exercise near bedtime. No exercise at least three hours before bed.
    • Don’t go to bed hungry. Have a light snack, but avoid a heavy meal before bed.
    • Bedtime routines are helpful for good sleep.
    • Avoid looking at the clock if you wake up in the middle of the night. It can cause anxiety.
    • If you can’t get to sleep for over 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something boring in dim light till you are sleepy.
    • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature.
    • If you have problems with noise in your environment, you can use a white noise generator. A fan will work.


    • University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
    • National Sleep Foundation
    • Shuteye
    • American Sleep Apnea Association
  • Video Overview

    What’s the single best way for kids to get ready for that math test or midterm exam in American History? Get a good night’s sleep. Neurologists at the Penn School of Medicine have learned that the enzymes needed to store information in long term memory don’t turn on until we turn off the lights and fall asleep. How do sleepless nights affect your teen’s grades?

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