Understanding the Interrelationship Sleep Socioeconomic Status And Classroom Behavior Update 04/2024

According to a study published in Child Development in May of 2021, socioeconomic class, sleep, race, and academic achievement are all linked together. In this long-term study, researchers looked at the effects of classroom conduct and academic achievement on children’s sleep health and signs of sleep disorders.

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 the context of health.

Sleep and Poverty

Sleep deprivation has been linked to children’s socioeconomic status (SES).

The formative years of childhood and adolescence can have a profound impact on an individual’s trajectory for the rest of their life. Concerns regarding the impact of poverty on children’s development have long been voiced in the United States, and as child poverty rates rise, those concerns have only grown. It is hoped that by better understanding the mechanisms through which poverty affects children, policies and initiatives to alleviate it can be put in place to help alleviate it. One of the most long-lasting and successful anti-poverty programs in the United States is Project Head Start, which was created in recognition of the importance of early education. In order to bring children out of poverty, several studies have been done on how to enhance their achievement in school. 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).

Recently, a new direction has emerged that suggests a new dimension to our understanding of academic difficulties. It’s been discovered that children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have less restful nights’ rest and are more likely to suffer from clinical sleep problems. Numerous studies conducted in the United States and overseas have found a link between sleep deprivation and problems with cognition, academic performance, and school behavior. In our own lab, we’ve tracked a variety of biopsychosocial outcomes and measured sleep in various groups of children from poor and moderate socioeconomic backgrounds over the course of several years. What we found was:

  1. On standardized ability tests, the relationship between children’s sleep and cognitive functioning was influenced by their social class. 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. In addition to cross-sectional studies, poor sleep in our early assessments was linked to poor academic outcomes two years later (Buckhalt, El-Sheikh, Keller, & Kelly, 2009).
  3. Success in school can also be impacted by emotional and behavioral issues. Two years later, youngsters who didn’t get a good night’s sleep were more likely to have both internalizing and extrinsic behavioral issues (El-Sheikh, Kelly, Buckhalt, & Hinnant, 2010).
  4. Some of the processes via which SES produces these effects have been found by us. There are a number of these, including parental depression and family strife. When parents are depressed, their children’s sleep is affected, and interparental and parent-child conflict are both possible paths of risk (El-Sheikh, Bagley, Kelly & Wetter, 2012).
  5. Many consequences and the quality of one’s sleep are linked in a cyclical fashion. As well as disrupted sleep, marital discord two years later was linked to children’s sleep disturbances (Kelly & El-Sheikh, 2011).

Developmental sleep research has yielded a wide range of important and damaging outcomes that influence a child’s trajectory of achievement, life success, and health. These findings and those of our colleagues are leading to a wide range of sociocultural processes being examined as they relate to sleep in childhood. In Sleep and Development: Familial and Sociocultural Considerations, several of these are covered (El-Sheikh, 2011).

The health of children’s sleep has become a new area of study for both prevention and treatment. Only a small minority of youngsters suffer from clinical sleep disorders that have not been properly diagnosed (Mindell & Owens, 2010). It is possible that early detection, prevention, and treatment could be achieved by improved screening in educational institutions and pediatric clinics. Slumber and cognition have both been improved by adenotonsillectomy in some youngsters (Chervin et al., 2006). Additionally, snoring and sleep apnea treatment using oral appliances, CPAP, and behavioral management for issues like insomnia have all been effective (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. Interventions aimed at improving the physical and social conditions of sleep are necessary for these youngsters. Comfortable bedding, proper heating and air-conditioning, and the elimination of airborne pollutants (such as cigarette smoke and allergies) all contribute to restful sleep. To promote sleep, parents can control their children’s bedtimes and check their caffeine intake; restrict media use; reduce noise; and reduce the stressors in their lives (e.g., family strife).

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.

Students in this demographic were shown to have difficulty establishing consistent nighttime routines, staying alert during the day, and getting enough sleep at night, according to the findings of a recent study. In the long run, these sleep health risks can lead to physical and mental health issues, as well as academic performance issues. According to the data, teachers say that classroom issues are more likely in students who get insufficient sleep.

Children’s daytime sleepiness was monitored by instructors for many weeks during the first grade school year, while parents reviewed their children’s sleep habits at home. Twenty-two percent of the youngsters surveyed by teachers showed signs of daytime sleepiness, according to their responses. Among parents, more than half of the youngsters resisted bedtime at least once a week, according to the results of the survey.

Nearly 20% of the children investigated had one or more episodes of disrupted breathing at least once a week, which can be an early predictor of sleep apnea and raises extra worries about the children’s future health.


Study results showed a correlation between daytime sleepiness in school and being from a historically underserved community, but researchers also cautioned that racial bias in observers should be considered when interpreting these findings.

As a result of these kinds of prejudices, students who are sleepy in class may be misunderstood as being lazy or disobedient. This study’s results were more accurate because of the inclusion of a standard assessment given by research staff.


Racial discrimination must be eradicated, but this study shows that scientific research and recognition of the effects of poor sleep quality are steps toward moderating biases and providing long-term fixes.

According to Dr. Alexandra Ursache, Assistant Professor of Population Health at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the study “highlights the importance of educating both parents and teachers about developing excellent sleep patterns in early children for their school achievement. Parents may be more aware of sleepiness’s impact on learning if teachers share their observations with them in a collaborative and culturally-affirming manner, according to the study.

For children’s academic success as well as their overall health, it is critical that teachers are trained to spot signs of tiredness in the school setting. 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.

Associate Scientist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School Instructor in Medicine Dr. Rebecca Robbins says that sleep is essential for good growth in kids. Emotional and behavioral health and well-being, as well as academic achievement in the future, can be predicted by a regular nighttime pattern at this age.

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