The Importance of Sleep for Health and Learning

In his book Why We Sleep, sleep scientist Matthew Walker has collated the scientific evidence which correlates chronic deprivation to a worldwide epidemic of obesity, chronic diseases including dementia, cancer, immune function disorders and mental health disorders. The Philippines ranks as the fifth most sleep deprived nation in the world.  Due to our social living patterns, electric light and technology our children are growing up in a world out of synch with natural circadian rhythms. We are habitually overriding our need for the required amounts of sleep necessary to keep us healthy.


Sleep is a natural state of rest during which the powers of the body are restored and the brain is able to do work it has little time for during the day. Sleep occurs naturally when the hormone serotonin is emitted. We go through many stages of sleep over a night-time, our sleep gets deeper and more restorative as we progress through each cycle. The amount of sleep children/adults need decreases with age but school-aged children need 10 to 11 hours per night and teenagers need 9 to 9 1/2 hours per night. This is essential because many important jobs are done by the brain to restore the body and mind. Cell damage is repaired and our immune system reinforced. If your child is regularly plagued with low grade viruses, coughs colds it could be that they are not getting the required amount of sleep. During a long, intense period of rest the body's energy reserves are replenished. The endocrine system is activated at night so sleep is necessary for normal growth puberty functioning. Sleep is associated with metabolism regulation, in order to burn calories efficiently we need to sleep sufficient amounts. It is no surprise then that with the trend to “short” sleeping we are seeing an epidemic of obesity. Both Long Term and Procedural memory are activated at night so we assimilate and hardwire what we have learned during the day. Staying up and studying late makes less, not more, effective learners.


It is important that your children Turn off all screens an hour before bed including phones and laptops. Brain research shows that the light from computer screens emits a light which interferes with the sleep hormone serotonin, effectively telling the brain it is daytime and time to wake up. As technology is highly addictive, setting effective rules about turning it off and leaving it to charge outside the bedroom are essential measures to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep hygiene refers to the good practices that facilitate sleep, these include avoiding stimulants like caffeine and sugar, exercising at appropriate times and setting optimal sleep conditions in the bedroom.


Adequate sleep is essential not only for physical and cognitive functioning but for emotional stability, we lose a sense of perspective and an ability to manage or thoughts and emotions when we are sleep deprived. A sleep deprived student is a vulnerable student. Please do click on the links which provide extra information, videos and statistics and share the information with your children. The more they understand about the functions of sleep and the negative effects of not getting the required amounts the more likely they are to cooperate with you. It is important to realise that your children mirror your behavior, prioritising sleep and balancing technology use yourself are the most effective ways to give your children the message that this is important.




Claire Ireland

Head of School Counselling