Teenagers and their distractions are, and have always been common place, and so it is for parents to keep them focussed – making sure they don’t stray too far off the path, that is after all a parents job. If you’re a teen it’s not so tempting to want to go to bed when there are distractions such as TV’s, smart phones, tablets and emersing oneself in social media, games and pointless trawling on the internet. These particular distractions also interfere with their focus and the ability to perform at school. They’re causing a lack of sleep – something that when you’re a teenager, you need more of and not less.
There is much in the media at present about youngsters using devices too much, being stuck on social media 24/7 which in some cases is causing depression, anxiety and sleep issues (for a whole host of reasons which I won’t go into right now). But being distracted beyond tiredness means academic performance suffers.
While reading about the effects of sleep I came upon a piece talking about how the brain processes information while asleep, and whether your brain can problem solve when in sleep mode. Some tests were carried out on people both after good sleep and deprived sleep. One test required them to problem solve a hidden rule for converting numbers into the right answer, plus other problems in varying degrees of difficulty. It found that they were all able to solve the easier problems, but those who had less sleep were not able to solve the difficult ones.
Maths is all about problem solving, it requires the brain to have had a good amount of sleep to be able to function at its optimum level, otherwise you find it harder to concentrate and think clearly. A power-nap in addition to your night time sleep is apparently helpful, but the best rest your brain can get is by reaching REM for long enough, which is when you increase your ability to problem solve. So if you are really struggling with your maths homework or revision then ‘sleep on it’ and try again in the morning, your brain might just have worked it through and/or gained enough sleep to deal with it.
A teenagers body clock is different to an adults and tends to lean more towards being ready to sleep a bit later, but then also wants to sleep later too. Slightly tricky when you have to get up for school the next day. Neurologist Judy Willis wrote in The Guardian’s Teacher Network that “Teens should be taught about the influence of sleep on brain function, especially mood and memory.” I couldn’t agree more! If they realise the importance of sleep hygene, and the effects it has on their ability to learn – especially seeing those maths results improve – then they’re half way there.
Teenagers need 8-10 hours sleep a night. If they don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis it can have all sorts of side effects, one of which is incredibly common now, anxiety. Managing anxiety takes up working memory space that could be used for solving difficult maths problems. So getting enough good quality rest can not only reduce any anxiety but also help improve maths ability. Judy Willis says “Sleep deprived childen display less brain activity while working on maths problems, for example, and make more mistakes in tests.”
Judy reccommends “Self-observation in the form of a sleep diary will enable them to see the correlation with their ability to focus.” If you’re able to persuade your teenager to do this if they’re not getting enough sleep, or have difficulty in focussing on problem solving then they might just find it particularly helpful. Listening to your body and being mindful of what it needs to function well is a great lesson in itself.
So remember, that getting enough sleep makes you smarter!