Wake Up, Sleepyhead!|
by Kim Tracy
I often walk by the preschoolers or kindergartners and wish that I could switch places with them after lunch. I would love to curl up on my mat and take even a fifteen-minute power nap. As an adult, I know that I must get sleep in order to be able to function the next day at work. However, are our students able to understand and make decisions on the amount of sleep needed?
Our students need over 8 hours of sleep in order to focus and retain the knowledge that teachers are so desperately trying to instill in their brains. According to Dr. Mary Carskadon, Director of Sleep Research Laboratory of Bradley Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, around the ages of 11-13, the human biological sleep clock changes. As students move into puberty, the hormone that tells the body to sleep, melatonin, is released later. Therefore, the teens want to stay up later but must get up earlier for school. The result? Attention/focus problems and memory/retention problems which inhibit learning.
Education institutes continue to require educators to cram as much content as they can and stress the importance of time on task every second. Some schools have extended their days in order to prepare students for state mandated tests. Many schools require remediation after school for students that have scored low in the previous year. The result of those extended hours are more frustrations in students and more frustrations in educators. Students are becoming increasingly sleep deprived.
There are many times that I see my students losing focus, and I establish the ten-two rule that has been discussed in previous articles (http://teachers.net/gazette/OCT00/tracy.html). I also give 30 second stretch breaks to wake the brain up and refocus on what we are learning in the classroom. However, I cannot go home and force students to go to sleep. Imagine calling all your students and saying, "Bedtime!!!!" Often, as educators, we feel our hands tied regarding the lack of sleep that our students are getting at night. We also know that we cannot go to our administrators and say, "My upper elementary (or junior high/middle or high school) students need nap time." However, we can keep them informed on what the latest research says regarding sleep or lack of sleep and how it affects our students.
The National Institute of Industrial Health in Kawasaki, Japan tested students with only four hours of sleep. These students were allowed to take ten-minute naps after lunch around 12:30. After the naps, students had fewer errors on the logical reasoning test. Compared to when they did not nap, students were also more alert during the afternoon. These tests were conducted on students that were college age, but it is logical to think that naps would be affective on younger students that have sleep deprivation as well. Note that ten minute naps will not make up for an entire nights sleep however for those students that do not get a full eight hours, ten minute naps will be beneficial.
How does an educator justify ten-minute naps when there is curriculum that is mandated by the state that must be taught? Clearly, it is a domino effect. When students are sleep deprived and their brains are not focusing, then the teacher will eventually have to reteach the material either during regular class time, remediation after school, or the following year. Many of these students are the ones that are considered low performing students, or behavior problems. Regarding her findings of when melatonin is secreted in the teen body, Dr Carskadon states, "The results gave us the first concrete evidence that teen's biology was the culprit, not the adolescent behavior."
To compensate for that, educators must continue to stay informed on the latest findings in order to show their administrators or educational systems the changes that need to be made in the daily schedules of students. The difference that ten-minute power naps can make in the educational environment of our students will be more beneficial than having to reteach material repeatedly. Being an educator, changing the system is much easier said than done! However, educators can understand the latest research and schedule lessons that consist of more down time and little brain input during a ten-minute time slot in the afternoon. Play a Baroque or Mozart tape and allow students to "rest" their brain. The results in logical thinking assignments and test, and the focus in class will be greater than those students not receiving that rest time. Although, educators might not be able to change the schedules that are regulated by administrators, we can rearrange our lessons to accommodate the needs of our students.
About Kim Tracy...
Kim Tracy is a fifth grade teacher living in North Carolina. After extensive research and training, Kim has become a Brain Compatible Learning specialist and has conducted staff development workshops in the Southeast area. Kim has been involved in other staff development by facilitating Active Learning in the Classroom workshops, Writing workshops, and Test Scoring workshops, as well as teaching computer skills to educators in her county. As a successful grant writer, Kim is currently in the process of developing successful grant writing packets for educators.
Kim received her BA in Elementary Education from St. Andrew's Presbyterian College in North Carolina and her MA in Education from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Kim thrives on teaching other educators about Brain Compatible Learning because she has seen the successes of the strategies in her classroom. Educators seeking advice with implementing BCL strategies can email Ms. Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org.