Now, there's a question we're often asked in our CPD workshops. Most teachers have finished a lesson feeling uninspired because most of their students were daydreaming or dozing off during it.
Research has shown that 60-70% of teenage students are sleep deprived, having a knock on effect on their ability to focus in class. If, as a teacher, you’re often left wondering why your students always seem so exhausted, we’ve got some explanations for you.
The sleep gap
Teenagers actually need more sleep than adults. Yet, many students don’t even manage to reach the adult target. Students should be getting 8-10 hours of sleep a night. In reality, many of them don’t even get 6. Sometimes, even when students are in bed for a good amount of time, they’re not getting enough quality sleep. And although people are growing more aware of its importance, the number of students failing to get enough sleep is still increasing. So, what are the reasons behind students’ sleep deprivation?
Why students don’t get enough sleep
Teenagers are going through time of change, which is stressful and exhausting. Combine hormonal changes with the need for social acceptance and the pressures of school work, and you get a recipe for tiredness and trouble falling asleep.
They’re always plugged in
Students are always surrounded by technology. They use computers for school work, watch TV in the evening, not forgetting their constant phone usage. This makes it difficult for them to switch off at night. Being on their phones in bed is especially damaging. Social pressures keep students glued to their phones at night, because they experience Fear of Missing out (FOMO). They worry about missing out on social media updates, for example, making a very unrelaxing time in the lead up to bedtime. Phone screen light limits the release of the hormone melatonin as well. This stops students from feeling sleepy, keeping them wide awake.
Their routine is wrong
Students often struggle with having a consistent bedtime routine. They go to bed at a different time each night, think they can catch up on sleep at the weekend, and take nice long after-school naps. None of this helps students to get a long, good-quality sleep at night. Instead, this kind of routine makes students more sleepy during the day. Some students are also loading up on coffees and teas to help them get through the day. This is illogical because caffeine (ironically) drains your energy, and contributes to sleeping difficulties.
They’re putting work first
Putting school work first, of course, sounds like a good thing. But sacrificing sleep for work is counteractive. Research shows that many students put work before sleep, thinking they can just push through busy and stressful periods. Even when students recognise its benefits, they see being tired as normal, and view sleep as the one thing they can put off to meet other demands.
The reality is that you need sleep for good work. Also, if students over-pressurise themselves about school work, and do it late at night, they fall into a vicious cycle of overthinking. Then, before bed, they think too much about what they have to do tomorrow. This contributes to stress and stops them getting to sleep.
Creating the perfect bedtime routine
For students to get more sleep, and conquer that daytime tiredness, they need to settle into a good bedtime routine. This isn’t only about the few hours before bed: it’s all day.
Firstly, students should have a regular bedtime that they stick to. It might sound childish, but it will help a lot. Students’ daily schedule should allow time for them to get their work done, so they’re not worrying about this as soon as their head hits the pillow. It should also factor in time for exercise, which will tire them out for a good night’s sleep.
Contrary to some advice, students can nap if they need it, just not for too long (and definitely not during class). This can re-energise them during the day. Drinking water and fuelling their bodies with a good diet will help to maintain their daytime energy too.
In the last few hours before bed, students should leave time to wind down. This includes putting work to one side, avoiding caffeinated drinks (even better to stay away from them altogether), and having some time to relax. They should try to avoid using their phones at night, or at the very least turn down the screen light and avoid looking at stressful things.
Finally, what should students do if they still find themselves lying in bed awake, struggling to sleep? They’re best off going to another room and distracting themselves for a while. They could read a book, or do a jigsaw puzzle for example, before returning to bed to drift off soundly.
We can’t expect students to know all of these things, or to find the motivation to develop all these great habits on their own. It is our responsibility, as educators or parents, to educate them on the benefits of sleep and the right strategies to get more of it.
Not only will this help them learn why they find it so hard to stay awake during the day and struggle to sleep at night - it will boost their well-being and the quality of their work.