Sleepy Kids in School

A problem so common in brick and mortar (and presumably digital) schools that it would probably be safe to call it an epidemic: students falling asleep in the classroom. Maybe one or two per period, maybe just lightly dozing off, maybe crashed so hard you have shake the student to bring the escaped spirit back to the corporeal plane. Either way, again it is, if anything, a commonality. So, what do you do? Kick the desk? Gently nudge a shoulder? Convince the entire class to clap until the student wakes up immersed in a ruse and leaves feeling embarrassed? Or, let them sleep?

Looking primarily at the high school classroom (where this issue would find itself most abundant), we can say a few things for certain. On average, a teenager’s circadian rhythm, (the 24 hour cycle that determines your sleepiness), is set to approximately 10 to 11 p.m. On average, high school classes start around 7:45 a.m. On average, teenagers (to be healthy), require between 9 and 10 hours of sleep. Do the math.

If a student were able to live at school and need no time to eat or get dressed or participate in any form of hygienic activity, it’s possible 9 to 10 hours of sleep may be achievable.

Now, what’s the reality?

Let’s say a student (Max) leaves school at 2:45 (on the bus). After a 20 minute bus ride the student arrives home at 3:10 (ish). Max decides to sit down for an hour and have a snack — after all he just spent 6 hours with the expectation of working and learning at break-neck speeds. It’s 4:15. Max starts homework. It’s nearly 7 p.m. and Max has yet to play outside (or inside) or talk with his family or talk with his friends or read for fun or shower or fixate on a hobby or develop a passion or (ad infinitum). That aside, it’s time for dinner. Max sits with his family for 30 minutes to eat but suggests he still needs to get back to homework. At this point it’s nearing 8 p.m. Max showers, brushes his teeth, and gets ready for bed. Perfect. He’s in bed by 8:30 and by 9 he drifts off to sleep. So, how is there a problem? As long as our students are doing only schoolwork, eating, sleeping, and commencing in fairly rigorous hygiene, there’s no reason anyone should be tired. Absurd.


Let’s say Max participates in any after school activity (sports, dance, band, etc.). If that’s the case, Max’s schedule wouldn’t start until nearly 7 p.m. I know students who have practice in cities that are nearly 45 minutes away, getting them home sometimes at 10 p.m. That’s before homework, family time, friend time, leisure time, etc. Let’s say Max wants to build a relationship with his family or with his friends. Where does that time come from? Where does hobby time come from? Where does leisure time come from? Well, if Max skips practice for this, he’s kicked off the team. If Max skips homework, he’s in trouble at school (which will bleed into his homelife). If Max skips building relationships, he will wind up much lesser as a human being in the long run. So, the only natural choice would be to pull the time from sleep.

The reality, then, is that teenagers are getting (on average) 7 hours of sleep a night, they’re falling asleep in class, and they’re being chastised for it. Study after study insists on the absolute importance of sleep for health and regeneration and how teenagers aren’t getting nearly enough. No one would disagree. However, school hours aren’t conducive, classroom rules aren’t conducive, administrative and teacher attitudes aren’t conducive, etc. We don’t let kids sleep at night. They fall asleep in class (where it’s often quiet, warm, comfortable, and safe), and then get punished. What are we teaching them? What is the point?

So, what are your options? Well, either let the kids sleep in your class. Picket, toss, turn, yell, and generally speak up to encourage starting school much later. Don’t give homework. Or, you can suggest to the student and the parents to pull them from all after school activities and hobbies and relationships. I say start with homework (as it’s the easiest), but that’s just me.