Does it matter that children and adolescents are sleeping more than an hour less per night than they did a century ago? (Matricciani et al., 2011). Could this difference influence their learning or other aspects of their lives? The answer to each of these questions is a resounding YES.

We explore relationships between sleep, learning, and health, starting with basic information about sleep, which occurs in five phases: stages 1–4 and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Stage 4, slow-wave sleep (based on electroencephalograph measurements) occurs mostly in the first half of a night’s sleep; REM sleep occurs more during the second half (Figure 1). Falling asleep, we start in stage 1 and then move progressively though stages 2–4 and into REM. Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes.

All five stages of sleep – each with its own changes in neurophysiology – facilitate some aspect of...

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