As Christian educators, we are charged with providing for the spiritual, mental, and physical well-being of the students entrusted to our care. Often, our schools do an outstanding job of providing students with excellent academic instruction built upon the foundation of God’s Word, but we sometimes fall short of fostering an environment that fully addresses their physical needs, especially in the area of sufficient student rest.
In the beginning, God set the example for us to take regular rest. In Chapter 2 of Genesis, we read that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because, on it, God rested from all the work He had done.” As we more fully emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the lives of the students and families in our school communities have become as busy as ever, and rest is sometimes a fleeting illusion. Our students (especially those in high school) often struggle with the cumulative effects of having multiple deadlines, feeling pressure to perform, and getting too little sleep, creating a perfect storm that can lead to a continued downward spiral. According to Richter (2015), the negative impacts of cumulative lack of sleep include “inability to concentrate, poor grades, drowsy-driving incidents, anxiety, and depression.”
Multiple studies show that our elementary and middle school students need approximately 9-12 hours of sleep each night, and our high school students need at least 8-10 hours of sleep nightly. However, research done by the Stanford Children’s Health Sleep Center found that approximately 87% of high school students fail to get the recommended amount of sleep. As students enter adolescence, their circadian rhythms change. Teenagers develop a “biologic tendency” to stay up and sleep later than both younger children and adults. The combination of increasing homework loads, participation in after-school events, and early school start times leave many high school students continually sleep-deprived and physically unable to perform to their God-given potential.
Ideas to Facilitate Student Rest:
- Evaluate School Start Times — especially for middle and high school students.
According to the research, small delays in school start times can have statistically important impacts on student sleep, resulting in “improved attendance, less tardiness” (Wheaton, Chapman, and Croft, 2016), and improved “behavioral health (such as depression and irritability)” (Hernandez and Shneyderman, 2020). When school start times were scheduled between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m., there was a statistically significant improvement in student performance as well as their reported amount of nightly sleep.
- Evaluate Homework Policies
In many independent Christian schools, at least 80% of students participate in school-sponsored co-curricular activities after school. For many of these students, engagement in these events forms a core component of their school experience. While their participation is encouraged, we sometimes fail to consider the impact of the significant time demands required by after-school events. Many students involved in after-school programs do not arrive home until 6:00 p.m. or later and struggle to find time to eat, shower, engage with their family, and then complete several hours of academic assignments while trying to get to bed before midnight.As a faculty, examine your school’s homework policies and consider the reasons for giving homework. Assignments given simply to fill a grade book do not always significantly impact the students’ learning.
- Scheduled Structured/Unstructured Time
Find opportunities during the school day to allow students to have a mental break.
Also, consider developing a tutorial or mandatory study period at the end of the day—a time free from co-curricular activities, where students can get a jump start on their assignments with the added advantage of being able to meet with their teachers.
Question for Further Thought:
How can your school foster an environment that encourages student participation in co-curricular activities while providing sufficient margin for rest and student well-being?
Richter, R. (2015, October 8). Among teens, sleep deprivation an epidemic. Stanford Medicine, News Center. https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2015/10/among-teens-sleep-deprivation-an-epidemic.html
Wheaton, A. G., Chapman, D. P., & Croft, J. B. (2016). School Start Times, Sleep, Behavioral, Health, and Academic Outcomes: A Review of the Literature. Journal of School Health, 86(5), 363–381.
Gonzalez Hernandez, V., Shneyderman, A., & Miami-Dade County Public Schools, R. S. (2020). Need for Sleep: Causes and Consequences of Insufficient Sleep in Adolescents. Can Delaying School Start Times Help? Information Capsule. Volume 1902. In Research Services, Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Research Services, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Join Dr. John Stubblefield at ACSI’s Flourishing Schools Institute (FSi), where he will be speaking on the topic of healthy living. The next FSi will be in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 1-3, 2022. Register your team today!
About the Author
Dr. John Stubblefield is an expert in the field of educational and sports leadership and has more than 20 years of experience in coaching and education. John fosters collaborative cultures while seeking to equip, empower, and encourage team members to achieve their personal best. John has served as a teacher, soccer coach, athletic director, assistant upper school principal, and eventually head of school. Currently, he is the Leadership Program Director at Forsyth Country Day School in Lewisville, North Carolina. John holds three national-level coaching diplomas and is a current staff coach with the North Carolina Olympic Development Program and a Region Coach with the U.S. Youth Soccer Southern Region. He is committed to helping teachers, coaches, and administrators build effective teams to maximize the potential of every member of their organization.