Updated at: 01-03-2022 - By: Jane

Children’s sleep, race, and academic achievement are all linked together in a new study published in Child Development in May 2021. The long-term study looked at the effects of sleep hygiene and sleep disorder symptoms on classroom behavior and academic achievement in children of various racial origins.

The study focused on kids in historically, economically, and socially poor neighborhoods of a historically, economically, and socially disadvantaged metropolitan U.S. school system. These aspects, such as socioeconomic status and discrimination, allowed researchers to explore sleep health in the context of socioeconomic status and discrimination. This allowed researchers to study factors, such as social status and discrimination, in relation to sleep health.

Sleep and poverty

Children from homes with low socioeconomic status have been observed to sleep poorly.


Childhood and adolescence is a critical time for shaping one’s long-term trajectory. Concerns regarding the impact of poverty on children’s development have long been voiced in the United States, and those concerns have only grown as child poverty rates rise. As a result, researchers and policymakers have been trying to figure out how poverty affects children and how it may be alleviated. Project Head Start, a long-standing and highly effective anti-poverty initiative in the United States, was born out of the understanding of the importance of early childhood education. Many studies have been done to find out how to enhance the success of students in school, which is considered as a means to lift children out of poverty. Several dozen elements have been studied extensively and implemented with various degrees of success to improve school performance, according to a policy study from the Educational Testing Service (Barton, 2003).

There has recently been a shift in the way we think about the obstacles that prevent students from achieving their full potential in school. It has been discovered that children from low-income homes are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia and hypersomnia. Researchers in the US and internationally have discovered a link between sleep deprivation and cognitive impairment, academic performance, and risky conduct in schools. Several cohorts of low- and middle-income children have been studied in our own laboratory for several years, with the goal of measuring their sleep and following a wide range of biopsychosocial outcomes. The following are some of our conclusions:

  1. On standardized ability tests, the relationship between children’s sleep and cognitive functioning was influenced by their socioeconomic status. – When children of all socioeconomic backgrounds slept well, they performed similarly, but when they didn’t, lower SES children’s cognitive abilities were harmed (Buckhalt, El-Sheikh, & Keller, 2007).
  2. Poor sleep was linked to worse academic performance two years later in our initial assessments, as well as in cross-sectional studies (Buckhalt, El-Sheikh, Keller, & Kelly, 2009).
  3. Emotional and behavioral issues also have an impact on academic performance. When a child doesn’t get a good night’s sleep, he or she is more likely to have behavioral issues two years down the road (El-Sheikh, Kelly, Buckhalt, & Hinnant, 2010).
  4. Some of the processes via which SES produces these effects have been found by us. Two of them are parental depression and family conflict. Interparental and parent-child conflict were found to be risk factors for parental depression and children’s sleep deprivation (El-Sheikh, Bagley, Kelly & Wetter, 2012).
  5. Many consequences and the quality of one’s sleep are linked in a cyclical fashion. Children’s sleep disturbances predicted marital conflict two years later, as well as the other way around (Kelly & El-Sheikh, 2011).

In light of these findings and those of our colleagues in the field of developmental sleep research, we are now looking into how sleep in childhood is linked to a wide range of positive and negative outcomes that have an impact on children’s future academic success, well-being, and well-being in adulthood.. In Sleep and Development: Familial and Sociocultural Considerations, several of these are covered (El-Sheikh, 2011).


The health of children’s sleep is now a new area of emphasis for both prevention and treatment. Only a small fraction of youngsters have sleep disorders that have been properly or incorrectly diagnosed (Mindell & Owens, 2010). Early detection, prevention, and treatment could be achieved by better screening in schools and pediatric clinics. One study found that children with adenotonsillectomy had better nighttime sleep and cognitive function (Chervin et al., 2006). Snoring and sleep apnea can be treated with oral appliances and CPAP, while problems like insomnia can be managed with behavior therapy (Mindell & Owens, 2010). However, a much larger percentage of youngsters suffer from sleep issues that aren’t clinically significant but are serious enough to have an effect on their health and academic performance over time. Efforts to improve the physical and psychological environment of sleep are necessary for these youngsters. Adequate heating and cooling, clean bedding, and the absence of airborne pollutants (such as tobacco smoke or allergies) all contribute to restful sleep. Parental control of bedtime, caffeine monitoring, media use restriction, noise reduction, and the reduction of stress-inducing factors (e.g., family conflict) are all examples of psychosocial approaches to improving sleep.

As efforts to increase nutrition and exercise habits have proven, improving children’s sleep will not be easy. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re going to pay the price in the long run, as poor sleep habits developed in infancy and adolescence continue into adulthood. Some of the implications will be summarized in the following article by Karen Matthews.

Study Findings

Students in 10 elementary schools in economically and socially disadvantaged communities of a large urban district were studied for a lengthy period of time as part of this long-term study. Observations by teachers and parents were conducted in the first grade, and then tests were given by research staff in the second grade as a follow-up.

This group of students was found to have an inconsistent nighttime routine, daytime tiredness, and a lack of adequate sleep quality, according to the findings of the research. These sleep-related health hazards can have long-term effects on one’s physical and mental well-being, as well as one’s academic performance. The study’s findings showed that a lack of sleep among children increased the chance of classroom difficulties observed by teachers..

Teachers monitored the children’s daytime sleepiness in the classroom for many weeks while parents reviewed their children’s sleep habits at home during their first grade year. Twenty-two percent of students were found to have some degree of daytime sleepiness, according to instructor replies. More over half of the children, according to their parents, fought going to bed at least once a week.

Nearly two-thirds of the children in the study had at least one episode of sleep apnea every week, and this raises serious questions about the children’s long-term health.


Children from historically underprivileged communities are more likely to exhibit indicators of daytime sleepiness in the classroom, however it is important to realize how an observer’s potential racial prejudice may influence how the observers views sahtey behavior.

Biases like these might lead to students being mislabeled as lazy or uncooperative because of their inability to stay up in class. In order to reduce the risk of bias, a standardized assessment conducted by research staff was included in the study.



To combat racism, this study argues that scientifically analyzing and understanding the dangers of poor sleep quality is an important step toward minimizing biases and generating permanent remedies.

As a professor of population health at New York University’s Grossman School of Public Health, Dr. Alexandra Ursache emphasized the significance of educating both parents and teachers about developing excellent sleep habits in young children.

Learning to recognize tiredness in the classroom is critical for the health and well-being of both students and teachers. Researchers believe that a sleep health curriculum for teachers could help them better notice and explain their students’ drowsiness in the classroom.

More than half of the study’s participants reported difficulties in developing happy and easy sleep rituals with the use of home-based alternatives, such as audio-based smartphone apps.

Researcher and Harvard Medical School instructor Dr. Rebecca Robbins says that adequate sleep is essential for a child’s healthy development. “Sleep is an essential component of good development for children,” says Dr. Robbins. Emotional and behavioral health and well-being, as well as academic achievement in the future, can be predicted by a regular sleep schedule that allows for adequate rest at this stage of development.

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