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You Snooze, You Peruse: Some Schools Turn to Nap Time to Recharge Students

You may be quick to dismiss the notion of sanctioned school napping as some nefarious, self-indulgent millennial trend. However, the initiative isn’t as absurd as it sounds when you consider the substantial evidence linking sleep deprivation to cognitive and behavioral problems. Studies have shown that sleep-deprived students are more likely to feel depressed, distracted, and unable to engage in critical thinking. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reviewed literature on the impact of sleep duration on health and found that teenagers suffering from chronic sleep deprivation had a higher likelihood of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.

Being sleep deprived is a common experience for most teenagers. According to a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 62 percent of high school students get an insufficient amount of sleep―less than 8 hours―on school nights. Researchers blame biological factors and academic and social demands for students’ lack of sleep. These considerations led the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to recommend an 8:30 a.m. or later start time for middle and high schools as “an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss.” Some school districts have adjusted start times, while others have implemented more unique approaches to reinvigorating their sluggish students.

Several high schools in Las Cruces, New Mexico have taken the step of installing sleeping pods for students to take naps in between classes. According to USA Today, the pods “include a reclined chair with a domed sensory-reduction bubble that closes around one’s head and torso” and “feature a one-touch start button that activates a relaxing sequence of music and soothing lights.” Students rest for a 20-minute period before being soothingly awakened by subtle vibrations and soft rhythmic beats.

New Mexico State University associate professor Linda Summers, who was responsible for securing funding for the pods, defended the practice against criticism that these resting periods distract from the business of teaching. "Why are they not in science or math class? Well, they could be…[b]ut they wouldn't be listening, they wouldn't be paying attention, and so this way we can get them to go back to class and focus."

Students, teachers, and school district officials have spoken glowingly about the pods’ effectiveness in restoring energy levels and alleviating stress. Sandy Peugh, the district’s health services director, said it has been “beneficial, educationally, to put them in the pod for 20 minutes and send them back to class, rather than have them miss half a day…. And it wasn’t just kids who had sleep issues. It worked on kids who had anxiety—extremely gifted kids who might have test anxiety.” 

Some schools around the country have introduced power napping clubs to combat student fatigue, while others have opted to go the transcendental meditation route to enhance mental well-being. The Boston Community Leadership Academy offers a “therapeutic study hall,” in which “social workers and a school nurse work individually with students to teach good sleep habits and strategies.” These experimental programs suggest that administrators and educators are willing to try imaginative approaches to relieve the stressors detrimentally impacting students’ sleep patterns and habits.

Unsurprisingly, the in-school napping phenomenon does have its detractors. The Wall Street Journal spoke with Melisa Moore, a pediatric sleep specialist at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital Sleep Center, who expressed her concern that “by taking away ‘sleep pressure,’ overtaxed students will sleep less during that all-important nighttime sleep.” The AAP has also downplayed the effectiveness of naps in general, saying they may “temporarily counteract sleepiness, but…do not restore optimal alertness and are not a substitute for regular, sufficient sleep.”

Despite all of your efforts, dealing with lethargic students is a common frustration in the life of a teacher. But, try to take some solace in the knowledge that most of your students are waging an on-going struggle for wakefulness the next time a lesson you enthusiastically prepped and delivered elicits somnolence instead of superlatives.

 

Richard Conklin, Education World Editor

 

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