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Dr. Ken Shore's
Classroom Problem Solver

Sleeping In Class

Students in elementary grades don't often fall asleep in class, but when they do, it can be a distraction to you and to the other students. Sleeping in class also can signify another problem that warrants your attention.

If you have a student who is nodding off frequently, do some digging to find out why. It may be that she is going to bed too late; is bored in school; has a medical problem, such as allergies, diabetes, or hypoglycemia; or is experiencing side effects of medication. When investigating the reasons, look for a pattern by examining when and where the student falls asleep.

Knowing why a student is falling asleep will help you figure out how to respond, and whether to deal with the problem as a medical concern, an emotional difficulty, a motivational problem, or a disciplinary issue.


Wake the student. Ask her if she feels all right; if not, send her to the nurse. If she claims to be feeling fine, suggest she get a drink of water and then send her to the rest room to wash her face to help overcome the fatigue.

Make it hard for the student to sleep. If one of your students nods off frequently and you are confident it is not due to illness or medication, consider removing her desk the next time she falls asleep, so she has no place to rest her head. Give her a clipboard or a hard surface to write on. Let her have her desk back when she tells you she is confident she can work without falling asleep.

Seat the student at the front of the class or near your desk. She will be less likely to nod off when seated near you, and if she does, you will be sure to notice. If the student is seated elsewhere in the class, move towards her if you see her falling asleep. Your presence may serve as a wake-up call. You also might consider seating her near the window; the light and fresh air may make her more alert.

Keep the student active. Give her activities to do during those times of day when she is most prone to falling asleep. In fact, incorporating physical activity into your classroom is a good practice to follow with all your students. You might, for example, have students do stretching exercises, play Simon Says, take a bathroom break, or do such classroom errands as taking a message to the office. Tailor the activities to the student's behavior pattern. If, for example, she tends to fall asleep while watching videos, consider asking her to help operate the audio-visual equipment.

Call on the student unexpectedly. If she senses that you may call on her at any time, she might work harder to stay awake. If you notice that she is starting to nod off, ask her a question or give her a task to do. Your goal is to heighten her alertness, not humiliate her, so ask a question you are confident she can answer.

Allow the student to take a nap -- sometimes. Some kindergartners or first graders still need a nap during the day. In fact, if you are teaching kindergarten, you might build a rest period into your class schedule (although you might want to phase it out as the year progresses to help students prepare for first grade). If the student continues to fall asleep over a period of time, contact her parents.

About Ken Shore

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a psychologist and chair of a child study team for the Hamilton, New Jersey Public Schools. He has written five books, including Special Kids Problem Solver and Elementary Teacher's Discipline Problem Solver.

Click to read a complete bio.