Many of us live our lives in sleep debt – having had less sleep than we should have done. Like financial debt, sleep debt can accumulate and become more severe over time: after 2 weeks of getting 6 hours sleep a night people perform as badly on tests as people who have been awake for 24 hours non-stop (and also at the same level as people who have had a couple of alcoholic drinks!)
Children are particularly prone to sleep deprivation, which can have severe impacts on a developing brain. It is recommended that children up to age 11 are getting 10-12 hours per night of sleep, and that teenagers get 8.5-10 hours. This means that if they are getting up for school at 7am, under 11s should be in bed not long after 7pm, and adolescents not long after 9pm.
Now, of course, sleep is primarily the responsibility of parents to monitor, but given its impacts on school progress, it is something that teachers can (and I think should) take an interest in. Potentially, there are huge academic benefits to be gained through some simple (and free!) changes to students’ routines. this should be something of interest to all teachers.
Suggestions for practice:
Assuming that you do not have the authority to change your school’s start time to later in the morning (on which has been some promising research done with teenagers), you could:
- Get your classes to keep a sleep diary (works especially well with tutor groups). I have done this and never fail to be amazed both at the variation and at how little sleep those at the extreme end are getting (from my experience 4 hours a night is not uncommon for some teenagers).
- Educate students about sleep habits and the importance of sleep routines. A set bed time and routine building up to that time have been found to be the best predictor of children getting enough sleep.
- Encourage them to have a ‘dark hour’ before bed, where they are not using screens
- Suggest that caffeinated drinks are avoided in the evening.