Many people would agree that sleep, or lack thereof, affects how we perform in our everyday lives. All of us have at some point experienced a poor nights’ sleep which, in turn, has negatively impacted our functions the following day.
So it’s not a surprise that sleep also impacts our students and how they perform in the classroom. Several studies have confirmed that there is a connection between sleep and academic performance as it relates to both learning and memory.
What Happens When a Student Does Not Get Enough Sleep?
Teens and adolescents require about seven to nine hours of sleep each night. When students are continuously not getting enough sleep, they can experience depressed moods and may also have difficulty retaining information that is presented in the classroom.
“The Consequences of Insufficient Sleep for Adolescents,” an article by Ronald Dahl, states that adolescents must reach REM sleep for the restorative biological processes that sleep provides. While an overall feeling of tiredness is an obvious consequence of lack of sleep, Dahl maintains that there are much more serious consequences like emotional and behavioral issues as well as problems with attention and performance.
ADHD and depressive disorders have also been linked to sleep. In his article, Dahl cites a study that found that adolescents with major depressive disorder suffered from both insomnia and hypersomnia. In addition, adolescents who had less than 6.75 hours of sleep a night experienced more instances of depressed moods.
What Can We Do To Be Sure That Our Students Are Getting the Sleep They Need?
In recent years, there have been several studies done regarding school start times and how they affect a student’s sleep schedule. Most studies maintain that students who go to sleep at a later hour do not do so because they want to stay awake, but rather because they are unable to fall asleep. The results of these studies paired with school start times as early as 7 am for high school students have raised more concerns regarding the connection between sleep and academic performance.
In this article for The Atlantic about school start times, journalist Jessica Lahey cites a study by Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom that spanned 9,000 students and 3 different states. The study showed that a delayed school start time yielded results like improvements in grades and standardized test scores. A delayed start time allows students who go to bed later to get more sleep, meaning that the solution to helping students may be as simple as changing start times at schools.
Electronic devices could also have an effect on when students go to sleep. The release of melatonin, a hormone produced by the body to regulate sleep and wake cycles, is affected by exposure to light. In an article for the Washington Post, Mariana Figueiro of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, explained her research findings which indicate that teenagers were especially sensitive to the blue light emitted by certain types of electronic devices such as cell phones, computer screens, and tablets. She found that exposure to blue light suppressed more melatonin in teenagers than in adults, even when teenagers were only exposed to one-tenth as much light. So just putting away electronic devices one to two hours before going to sleep could also help students get to bed earlier and get more sleep.
Benefits of the Virtual Classroom
Most virtual schools are set up in a way that allows the student to work at their own pace and during times that work best for them. The obvious benefit here, especially in regard to sleep in adolescents, is that students are able to set sleep schedules that provide more than seven hours of sleep per night without interfering with school work. However, it’s still important that adolescents go to sleep at a reasonable bed time and rise after about seven to eight hours of sleep.
Dahl, R. E. (1999, January). The consequences of insufficient sleep for adolescents. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(5), 354–359. Retrieved from https://www.spps.org/cms/lib/MN01910242/Centricity/Domain/7352/conseqsleepdep-dahl.pdf
Kim, M. (2014, September 1). Blue light from electronics disturbs sleep, especially for teenagers. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/blue-light-from-electronics-disturbs-sleep-especially-for-teenagers/2014/08/29/3edd2726-27a7-11e4-958c-268a320a60ce_story.html
Lahey, J. (2014, August 25). Students aren’t getting enough sleep—School starts too early. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/08/surprise-students-arent-getting-enough-sleep/379020/