Life Style

In children and adolescents, “sleep helps to consolidate knowledge”



La Croix: What is the influence of sleep on learning?

Stephanie Mazza : Sleep plays a dual role. It allows us to be available to learn and it consolidates our knowledge. A child or adolescent who has slept well is more receptive and more curious. It will be easier for him to receive new information, to process it and to begin to memorize it.

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Then, during the night, the memory systems involved in learning reactivate spontaneously to stabilize this knowledge. Conversely, the neural networks that have been little activated will return to a basic level and we will forget the information that is not useful to learn others the next day. Sleep, especially slow and deep sleep, plays an essential role in brain construction in children and adolescents.

If sleep helps to consolidate knowledge, is it more effective to revise before falling asleep?

SM: Some studies show that when you revise in the evening, before going to bed, sleep actually helps to process and retain information. But fortunately, everything does not happen when you fall asleep. Sleeping at night consolidates everything learned during the day. Even an early afternoon nap can play this role.

More and more students are tired and sleepy in class. What are the consequences of lack of sleep on learning?

SM: Lack of sleep will alter the cognitive functions essential for learning: attention, memorization, reasoning and motivation. Even if he does not fall asleep in class, a tired child will be more easily distracted by his classmates, by noises or by his own thoughts. He will also have more difficulty retaining information and reasoning because these two functions require a lot of cognitive resources. Finally, a tired child will not want to go to school.

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Thanks to functional brain imaging, a team from Inserm (National Institute for Health and Medical Research) has shown that the lack of sleep and, above all, the changes in rhythm between the week and the weekend in middle school students were associated with a reduction in the volume of gray matter and a decrease in their academic results. This alarming link should encourage us to act to allow adolescents to sleep better.

How does the school take into account the question of sleep?

SM: We have initiated work to highlight the importance of sleep in learning. Educational programs such as “Mémé Tonpyj” (content intended for CP, CE1 and CE2) show that sleep education can be done with concrete effects on students’ sleep time and their attentional performance.

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We will also be experimenting with a shift in the start time of classes in boarding schools of excellence. Several studies have shown that this arrangement has a beneficial effect on adolescents, both on their absenteeism, their academic performance and their well-being.

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