Friday, September 13, 2019

Sleep and Memory

We've written countless times about sleep, and the importance of sleep for children of all ages.* Now, a new study paints a clear picture of how academic learning is significantly affected by sleep deprivation - and how this impact continues in effect over a period of several weeks.

A new study in the Journal of Adolescent Healthnoted in AAP Newsexamined the effects of sleep deprivation on 59 teens ages 15-18 at a boarding school in Singapore. The group was divided into two parts; one set of students could sleep for nine hours, which is the generally recommended length of sleep for teens of that age group. The other set of students were permitted only five hours of sleep, an amount not unusual for sleep deprived students.



After a period of four days, designed to replicate a typical school week, both groups of students were taught detailed facts about ants and crabs over the course of a six hour day. The students were tested on what they had learned 30 minutes and then three days after the lesson concluded. Some of the students (from both the sleep deprived and the control groups) were also tested six weeks after the lesson.

The study authors noted, " We found significantly reduced retention of factual knowledge after four nights of restricted sleep, and this deficit was still evident when tested 6 weeks later." The data shows:

  • 30 minutes after the lesson, the sleep deprived students retained 26% less information than the control group, a finding that the researchers note may be attributed to impaired encoding of the material in the first place.
  • After three days, the sleep deprived students retained 34% less than the control group.
  • Six weeks later, among those of the students who returned for follow up (14 sleep restricted and 22 of the control group), the sleep restricted participants retained 65% less of the learned material for certain responses.  

This study should be required reading for all teens who dismiss the importance of a full night's sleep.

*The links to our blog posts on sleep are too numerous to include. You can find them by searching the term "sleep" or selecting "sleep" from our list of blog topics, both of which are located on the right hand side of this post. 

Photo by Tracey Hocking on Unsplash

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Avoiding the October Surprise

Tomorrow is the first day of school for New York City students, but their older siblings and friends at college likely started classes days or weeks ago. College students who are new to campus living need to adjust to a wide array of  "self care" responsibilities. These are things that used to be done with parental support or, at least, parental awareness. They include getting adequate sleep, eating well, avoiding dangerous situations, and staying up-to-date on assignments.

One responsibility in particular can make or break a student's chance of success in college: maintaining his or her medication regime. Students who require medication, whether to treat a health condition, a mental illness, or AD/HD, have likely been taking these medications regularly, perhaps reminded by or assisted by their parents. They have parental help with obtaining prescriptions, including making appointments with their doctors, knowing about their drug plan coverage, and getting refills (in general, controlled substances - which include most medications for attention and psychiatric conditions - require that the patient be seen by the prescribing physician at least every three months), and monitoring side effects. Parents can often tell when their adolescent is not taking prescribed medications just by observing how they feel and behave.

Not infrequently, when a student arrives to begin college, they are eager to assert their independence and might decide they don't really need their medication. Or, they may have the best of intentions to continue their medication regime, but become distracted and don't follow through with taking their meds regularly.


Why do we call this the "October Surprise"? We first heard the term from a colleague who was describing a regular experience in her legal practice, when parents would call her and report that their college student suddenly was failing, or in the infirmary, or decided they couldn't handle college. Why? After some investigation, many of these students had stopped their medications as soon as they got to school. Since most of these medications don't stop working immediately, it took until late September or early October for them to be fully out of the student's system and for the student to feel the full effects of functioning without needed medication. Hence, the surprise in October.

College students may not realize that there is no opportunity for a "do over" in college. If a student fails a course, that "F" is there forever, impacting his or her GPA. I've sat with more than one set of parents who sought guidance in what they could do once their child has failed several courses and have been able to offer little solace.

Families need to begin when a student is in high school to create medical independence, but it is not too late to speak to a college student to make sure he or she has the tools to manage their medication. Students need to understand their medical or psychiatric conditions, know what medications they are taking and why, and how to keep their medication secure from those who would like to try their attention meds to "help" them study. Your student needs to understand that in addition to the legal and ethical issues involved, ADHD stimulants are called “controlled substances” because of their potential for side effects. They can do harm to individuals who are not under the supervision of a physician. Your son or daughter should know how to obtain more medication when they need it -- even if that means letting a parent know rather than making arrangements for a refill themselves.

Speaking with your student about his or her medications, the importance of taking them, and when and how to reach out for additional medication or to report problems is an important part of college readiness and can make a real difference in college success.


Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash