It’s now late afternoon, and I’m feeling a little drowsy. Maybe it’s the heavy lunch?
I was just reading Dr William Dement’s article What All Undergraduates Should Know About How Their Sleeping Lives Affect Their Waking Lives:
Each of us has a specific daily sleep requirement. The average sleep requirement for college students is well over eight hours, and the majority of students would fall within the range of this value plus or minus one hour. If this amount is not obtained, a sleep debt is created. All lost sleep accumulates progressively as a larger and larger sleep indebtedness. Furthermore, your sleep debt does not go away or spontaneously decrease. The only way to reduce your individual sleep debt is by obtaining extra sleep over and above your daily requirement.[…]
[T]he size of your sleep debt determines the strength of the tendency or ability to fall asleep. If your sleep debt is zero, sleep is impossible. If your sleep debt is very low, only a small amount of stimulation is required to keep you awake. If your sleep debt is very large, no amount of stimulation can keep you awake.[…]
[T]he things we usually assume cause us to become drowsy or to fall asleep actually do not cause us to become drowsy or to fall asleep. Their true role is to unmask any tendency to fall asleep that is present already. If you believe that boredom, a warm room, or a heavy meal causes sleep, you are completely wrong! If boredom, a warm room, or anything else seems to cause you to feel drowsy, you have a sleep debt and you need to be stimulated in order to stay awake. If you frequently feel sleepy or drowsy in any dull or sedentary situation, you almost certainly have a very large sleep debt.
Unfortunately, many students, particularly those in higher education, tend to go to class with heavy sleep debts. Whether it’s caused by the sheer amount of school work they have to finish, or simply their late-night lifestyle, it’s just something teachers have to live with.
I remember bumping into a classmate on the bus to school years ago when we were still students. He was excited to see me, proceeding to describe to me how he spent the whole night solving a programming problem. As he was speaking, his speech started slurring, and his eyelids started drooping, before he fell completely asleep, mid-sentence! Talk about a heavy sleep debt.
But just because there are students around with very heavy sleep debt does not relieve you the teacher from all responsibility. If a third of your students have their heads resting on the desk and drenching their handouts with drool during your classes, it’s because your lessons are so unstimulating and boring that a minimal amount of sleep debt is enough to send them a-drooling.
Yes, all your students will be carrying some amount of sleep debt, which can get quite heavy by late afternoon. But if you provide enough stimulation, they will be able to stay awake. Sure, there are exceptions–some students may have been up all night working on an assignment, but you’ll recognize them. Just do your part, and don’t take things too personally.