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The Type of Rest That Leads to Good Grades

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Heidi Radunovich, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Many people suffer from at least occasional bouts of insomnia. If this describes you, you know how frustrating it can be. While you may have been “in bed” for all or most of the time, lying in bed awake is definitely not the same thing as actually sleeping!

Yet when studies look at children’s sleep habits and how they relate to outcomes, they generally look at “time in bed” rather than how well and how long they truly sleep. The reason for this is easy to understand—up until recently, it’s been hard to track true “time asleep” without cumbersome equipment. Now, however, it’s possible to monitor this with a simple wristwatch-like device called an actigraph.

Tracking Sleep Length and Sleep Efficiency

Researchers in a recent study of 75 elementary-school students took advantage of actigraph technology to see how sleep duration (time spent sleeping) and sleep efficiency (the percentage of time spent asleep of the time we spend in bed) related to kids’ performance in school. The children were between the ages of 7 and 11, and their sleep was assessed for 5 school nights. Some children were asleep for as little as 70% of the time they spent in bed, while others slept for as much as 93% of it.

Efficient Sleep Linked To Better Grades

When grades were looked at, children with better sleep efficiency had higher grades in math, English, and foreign language (though not in science and art). This was true even when the effects of age, gender, and household income were considered. Interestingly, so-called sleep duration—the actual amount of time spent sleeping—was not linked to grades.

The difference in grades between “inefficient” and efficient sleepers was relatively large. In fact, the researchers suggest that simply helping poor sleepers sleep better could improve school performance as much as having them participate in highly effective programs designed to raise grades.

Tips for Better Sleep

But how can we ensure that children actually sleep once in their beds? It’s a tricky question, but experts do have some advice. Turn off electronics at least an hour before bed, and don’t keep them in your child’s room. (They’ve been linked to sleep problems and disturbances many times in research.) Establish reliable bedtime routines that are the same every night; it will help children wind down for bed. Make sure kids get enough exercise daily. Finally, try to keep bedtime about the same every night, whether it’s a school night, weekend, or vacation.

All of this is good advice for grown-ups, too, by the way. When we sleep well, our lives are improved in so many ways.

(Photo credit: Untitled by jayrynessCC BY 2.0. Cropped.)


Gruber, R., et al. (2014). Sleep efficiency (but not sleep duration) of healthy school-age children is associated with grades in math and languages. Sleep Medicine, 15, 1517-1525.

Lu, S. Sleep tips for kids of all ages. Retrieved from