Today’s educators face many hurdles—increasing class sizes, budget cuts, curriculum changes and a lack of support, just to name a few. Another, less talked-about challenge, however, involves teaching those who come to class tired, and are in turn unmotivated and unprepared to learn.In order for students to be successful at school, they need to come rested. After all, sleep is food for the brain. When the body sleeps, important brain activities and body functions occur that have an effect on growth, brain development, productivity and even mood. Although educators don’t have much control over what happens outside the classroom, there are some things that can be done to combat the challenges of teaching the tired.

Fighting the fatigue
Students across the board are leading busy lives these days. Between school, homework, sports, extracurricular and social activities, there’s not a lot of time left for much else. And unfortunately, sleep sometimes takes a back seat. Here are some tips, by grade level, on managing sleepy students:

Elementary
According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-aged children, between five and twelve years old, need 10-11 hours of sleep per night. However, the average elementary-aged child only gets about 9.5 hours. A morning routine that gives students immediate responsibilities upon entering the classroom may be just the trick to give slow-moving students that initial burst of energy needed to start the day. Hanging backpacks, checking cubbies and turning in homework are all simple activities that can be used to provide responsibility and routine. Rewards can help reinforce this behavior—a Twist Crayon or stencil for those consistently following routine can be a great prize.

Middle and High School
As kids transition into their teen years, their sleep requirements change. Most teens need about 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep each night in order to be successful at school. However, their body’s sleep patterns are shifting, and they begin going to bed later and waking up later. Combine that with schools’ early start times, and the result is a noticeable sleep deficit. Instead of standing up front and lecturing to tired, bleary-eyed students, encourage active involvement. Engage students through learning activities and group work. For example, if you’re teaching a lesson on nature, take a walk outside instead of learning from textbooks. Or, if you teach history, assign student groups to act out an important period you’re studying. Props, including paper hats or masks, can make the activity fun and interactive.

College
College students represent one of the most sleep-deprived segments of the population. One way to counter this is by keeping energy levels high; holding interactive discussions can help. Encourage students to pay attention and participate by facilitating active question-and-answer sessions. Pose a question and choose the student you want to answer by tossing them a Mini Beach Ball. This keeps students alert and promotes movement to keep the blood flowing. Also, don’t forget to educate students on the importance of a good night’s sleep. A Sleeping and Your Health Pocket Slider provides information on the benefits of sleep as well as tips and tricks for combating sleep deprivation.

Educating and reaching tired students can be a challenge. And there’s not much you can do to make students sleep more. But establishing a routine, promoting engagement and increasing interaction can help. Give one of these ideas a try and see if it makes a difference in your classroom.

“Teens and Sleep.” National Sleep Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 29 Oct. 2013.

“Children and Sleep.” National Sleep Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 29 Oct. 2013. <http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/children-and-sleep>.

“The Sleep Of America’s Children.” Sleep for Kids. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 29 Oct. 2013.

Linsin, Michael. “How To Handle Sleepy, Unprepared, And Unmotivated Students.” Smart Classroom Management RSS. N.p., 20 April 2013. Web. Retrieved 30 Oct. 2013.

Harris, Robert. “Some Ideas for Motivating Students.” Some Ideas for Motivating Students. N.p., 28 Nov. 2012. Web. Retrieved 30 Oct. 2013.

““How Much Sleep Do I need?” TeenHealth. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 30 Oct. 2013.

“Sleep and Memory.” Healthy Sleep. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 30 Oct. 2013.

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