Tired students. They can be one of a teacher’s biggest puzzles. Figuring out why they are tired is almost as puzzling as figuring out how to engage them. Whether you teach a first period with students struggling to wake up or an afternoon period with students struggling to stay awake, the question has probably crossed your mind: Why are my students always tired?
Tired teens were so pervasive in 2014 that the American Academy of Pediatrics declared their sleep deprivation a public health issue. Their 2014 study stated that lack of sleep affects students’ academic performance, physical health, and mental health. In essence, lack of sleep compromises their entire quality of life.
The question is why?
The Biology of ‘Tired’
High school students are in the midst of puberty. Hormonal changes during this time lead to disruptions in their circadian rhythms. According to the Sleep Center at UCLA, during this time their sleep onset time can shift by up to two hours over the schedule they experienced during childhood. A child who routinely went to bed at 8 p.m. in elementary school won’t even begin to get tired until 10 p.m. in high school. Even teens who wish to fall asleep early may have a difficult time doing so.
Parents and teachers alike may accuse their teens of being too busy with social media and other distractions, but the truth there are biological reasons most teens are not sleeping as much as they should. Eleven p.m. is the time the average teen becomes tired. The hours available for sleep are then cut short because school starts early. At the same time, their body and brain require 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep for optimum growth and health. Teens who need to get up and ready for school at an early hour are not able to sleep this much each night.
Busy & Tired
Today’s teens are significantly busier than previous generations. School, homework, sports, clubs, family obligations, and jobs are all things that compete for the attention of today’s teen. According to the Sleep Center at UCLA, engaging in too many activities cuts into optimum sleep time and can cause excessive tiredness.
Homework and studying for exams cause teens stress. The time spent on both of these activities costs teens sleep. Teens may also feel that they must take the most difficult course load possible in order to look good for colleges. AP and Honors courses can create 5 to 6 hours of homework each night. If a student participates in a sport or activity that has them return home at 7 or 8 p.m., they will be up until midnight just finishing assignments.
Overscheduling may also keep today’s teens from getting enough sleep. Teens feel increased pressure to show participation in a variety of activities for college applications. Students often feel pressured to participate in “everything” in order to get into the best college. And this activity often costs them sleep. Time management becomes a concern as students overbook and overschedule themselves. Not only can they not manage the time they have for their responsibilities, they struggle to manage their overall schedules.
Another reason teens avoid sleep is their increased use of electronic devices. Students may refuse to put away devices and cut into their sleep time. Or the daytime use of devices may actually change sleep patterns. In a study published by the Regional Center for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare in BMJ Open, researchers found that use of devices for more than four hours per day could delay the ability to fall asleep by up to an hour. Electronic devices disrupt the internal human clock – causing shifts in our circadian rhythms, according to the same study in BMJ Open.
Additionally, as social media usage climbs among teens, many teens spend their nights on their smart devices. The social aspects of the devices may distract them from sleeping as they want to spend more time interacting with friends.
Consequences of Being Tired
While it can be frustrating as a teacher to have half-awake students, there are much more serious consequences for young people. According to the Child Mind Institute, mood swings and depression are reported in more than half of sleep-deprived teens. Teens also suffer from the inability to self-regulate and have increased risk of injury when they are not sufficiently rested. Additionally, they are more likely to engage in substance abuse – often to keep themselves awake – and engage in risky behaviors.
Solutions for Tired Teens
One of the first things we can do is help teens learn to manage their time wisely. Limiting participation in extracurricular activities or not taking on a difficult course load will both cut down on daily time commitments. Planning out long-term assignments can also help teens to manage time wisely. Developing a study system increases efficiency and eliminates the need for all-night cram sessions. Teaching healthy habits and time management skills are steps that you can take immediately to help solve teen sleep issues. To learn how LifePlan Labs can help you teach these skills, we have made a lesson plan available that you can test drive yourself. Just click the button below:
Garey, Juliann, et al. “Teens and Sleep: What Happens When Teenagers Don’t Get Enough?” Child Mind Institute, childmind.org/article/happens-teenagers-dont-get-enough-sleep/.
Group, Adolescent Sleep Working, and COMMITTEE ON ADOLESCENCE, AND COUNCIL ON SCHOOL HEALTH. “School Start Times for Adolescents.”Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, 25 Aug. 2014, pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/08/19/peds.2014-1697.
Hysing, Mari, et al. “Sleep and Use of Electronic Devices in Adolescence: Results from a Large Population-Based Study.” BMJ Open, British Medical Journal Publishing Group, 1 Jan. 2015, bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/1/e006748.
“Sleep and Teens.” UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, UCLA, sleepcenter.ucla.edu/sleep-and-teens.