I would like to think that one of the reasons our students do so well is because they get enough sleep; however, after having encouraged, cajoled, and pleaded with students to sleep more, I am aware that our young men and women, like high school students all over the country, simply do not sleep enough. According to what many students have told me, they stay up much later than they should to study, complete homework assignments, watch movies or shows on Netflix, communicate with friends, or sometimes they just cannot fall asleep. Against what almost all research says, the students believe that they can catch up on sleep over the weekend and be fine for the next week; in fact, a recent study showed that sleeping late on Saturday and Sunday can actually be counter-productive for the week since it can make going to sleep at a reasonable hour and waking up for school even more difficult.
So, if they are not sleeping enough and they won’t listen to us adults, maybe as parents and as educators, we need to change the parameters of the conversation. Instead of haranguing them about the amount of sleep they are not getting, perhaps we should discuss with them the type of sleep they need. In a recent New York Times piece, “Want to Ace That Test? Get the Right Kind of Sleep,” Benedict Carey describes the types of sleep we require for various kinds of tasks. He says, “There is research suggesting that different kinds of sleep can aid different kinds of learning, and by teaching ‘sleep study skills,’ we can let our teenagers enjoy the sense that they’re gaming the system.”
For instance, the way we sleep earlier in the night differs greatly from the kind of sleep we experience during the second half of the night. “Studies have found that the first half of the night contains the richest dose of so-called deep sleep—the knocked-out-cold variety—and this is when the brain consolidates facts and figures and new words...Just as the first half of a night’s sleep is rich with deep slumber, the second half is brimming with so-called Stage 2 sleep, the kind that consolidates motor memory, the stuff that aspiring musicians and athletes need.” So, if your child has a Spanish test tomorrow, maybe he should turn off whatever he is watching on TV earlier and go to bed; if your daughter has a soccer game or a strings concert the next day, maybe she should sleep in a little bit later to retain her motor memory.
Of course, the best solution is that teens go to sleep earlier at night and wake up refreshed and ready to take on whatever they have going on that day, and we can still try to convince our children of this need. Until we arrive at that point, though, maybe we need to help them learn how to be more thoughtful and strategic in the way they sleep. We can even tell them, “Look how well you are doing right now—just think how much more productive and happier you would be if you slept well!”