Students, Educators, and Sleep (Part One)

baby-19295_1920There are few sights more precious in this world than a newborn lost in slumber. So tender. So peaceful. So serene.

Sometimes I hear people say, “I wish I could sleep like a baby.” A comment such as this recognizing that something is not right with sleep in American, for sleep is not only a gift but a necessity. According to research compiled by the American Sleep Association, lack of sleep is a significant public health issue:

  • Between 50 to 70 million adult Americans suffer from some kind of sleep disorder.
  • 37.9% of adults reported unintentionally falling asleep at least once in a month. (NOTE: This has happened to me, which has led to a greater interest in this topic for myself, colleagues, and my students)
  • 4.7% of registered drivers reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving at least once in the previous month.
  • Typically adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep (I do not get that on an average night during a school week, although I do sometimes nap after school when I arrive home).
  • A teenager needs 8 to 10 hours of sleep (I cannot imagine that most of my students are sleeping this much).
  • A child 6-12 years old needs 9 to 12 hours of sleep.

Regular lack of sleep has been linked to a slow down of brain function that is similar to the effects of alcohol on a person. It is connected to an increase in accidents, Alzheimer’s disease, heart issues, diabetes, and many other ailments. Clearly, we all need sleep, not only to renew our bodies and minds, but also to release toxins that seek to destroy our bodies.

I believe that it is long overdue to have a serious conversation about sleep in education. You as readers are likely familiar with the statistics I share. But I don’t see a lot of conversation about the validity of this data, and if valid, what we should be doing about guiding the sleep process, both for ourselves as educators, for our students, and to inform and empower our families for good decision-making. Clearly if there is significant cognitive impairment that results from a lack of sleep this is an issue for schools, teachers, and students, since the success of learning and productivity depends on our cognitive acuity.

My goal with this post, and the others that follow, is to start (or energize) a conversation about the role of sleep and education — a larger conversation that I believe is long overdue. I am challenged by my own tendency to work, work, work, at the expense of rest. I know that is an issue for others in education. And my students, who enter my class bleary-eyed, are dealing with this issue as well as they face the pressures placed on them (or that they place on themselves) by life, culture, and school.

I would love to have readers of this blog be a part of this conversation. I have no illusions that I have the answers to what ails us as far as sleep, but I do believe that collectively we can break down this issue and provide some guidance for schools, educators, and students. If nothing else, a discussion over sleep can help us all be more self-reflective about our own habits and patterns and increasingly sensitive to the needs of students and colleagues around us. Won’t you be a part of this important conversation?

Over the next several weeks I will be adding a series of posts on this topic. First I will look at what sleep means for us as professionals so that we can be fully prepared to take on the challenges of teaching and leading. We will also look at students, their sleep patterns, successes, failures, and seek to better understand what they aren experiencing that impacts proper rest. Finally, we will seek to make sense of what we learn, hopefully in a collaborative manner, providing practical recommendations that may be shared or implemented to guide us all in more productive and thoughtful living.

I hope that you will accept the invitation to join me on this journey.

6 thoughts on “Students, Educators, and Sleep (Part One)

  1. Nathanael W Poppe

    Great post, Dave!

    I have often wondered as an educator how sleep/lack of sleep truly affects this generation of learners. I look forward to reading more of your posts on the study.

    I know some studies have linked the excessive use of technology before trying to sleep as a huge factor. Humans are stimulated by technology (games, Television shows, telephones, etc) which can cause a “loss of time” so to speak. Additionally, speaking from experience, I know I can get drawn into a game or TV show and play or watch much longer than I intended.

    I have also seen some studies which state the hormonal imbalances in teenagers can cause some of the disparity in wake/sleep times. Along the lines of kids are programmed (internally) to go to sleep later and wake up later, but our current school model expects kids to be up as early as 5 AM and ready to learn at 7 or 8 AM. While sports and other extra-curricular activities can play a major factor in time students go to sleep as well.

    Again, I look forward to other things you find!

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  2. Jennifer Tessendorf

    I have always insisted that my children get plenty of sleep. We have pretty strict rules about when it’s “lights out”. However, I have to admit that now that I have one in middle school, with swim practice three times a week, as well as drama, piano, and robotics club, it’s getting tougher, and I worry about it. The girls could give up swimming, which would make getting adequate sleep easier, but then they wouldn’t be getting as much exercise, which also seems unhealthy. I guess that if it comes down to it, I would insist on the sleep and giving up activities, but it wouldn’t be an easy decision.

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  3. Jennifer Tessendorf
      1. Jennifer Tessendorf

        Well, I don’t know that they’re particularly useful, because they aren’t citing the original studies. I just posted them in case someone else might want to give them to their students.

        Liked by 1 person

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