Tips for Teachers to Help Sleepy Teens Stay Awake During Class
By Jenny Francis, MD, MPH
Fatigue is a common complaint among teens that come to my office. As an adolescent medicine specialist, I often find myself uncovering “hidden” diagnoses underneath the complaint of fatigue. Fatigue, or feeling tired, often represents much more than being sleepy – it could be the presenting sign of a mental health concern, such as stress and anxiety. Or it could be something more physiologic, such as anemia or residual effects of a viral infection. Either way, when it affects the classroom, teachers need tips for encouraging their students to stay engaged. Below are some suggestions that I often use with teenagers and young adults that are basic enough for any teacher (or parent) to offer to his or her developing adolescent:
a) Sleep - teenagers need 9-10 hours of solid sleep each night. Practice ‘sleep hygiene’ before going to bed: take a bath before sleep, make sure the room is dark, no electronics in the room - including phone, tablets, computers, TV, or florescent lights. Use a noise machine or have a fan running in the background to minimize distractions and set the stage for a good night’s sleep. If you’re sleep deprived, then it’s more difficult to remain focused and engaged during school hours. Often teenagers will only get 4-5hrs of sleep each night and then catch up on the weekend to make up for the hours of sleep deprivation accrued over the week.
b) Hydrate - drink up to 8 glasses of water a day. Dehydration can cause you to lose focus. You won’t perform your best at school if under-hydrated, so carry a water bottle with you to track how much water you’re consuming throughout the day.
c) Eat regular meals - a teen should be eating a small meal or snack every 4 hours to keep metabolism up and to give your brain enough nutrition to stay focused. A snack of 100 calories (like a handful of nuts, or an apple) can help boost your energy in between classes.
d) Get interested - if you’re falling asleep in class, try sitting in the front and putting away your phone. Sometimes it’s a matter of removing distractions so you can focus on staying focused.
e) Exercise - get 20-30 minutes of activity a day. The endorphins released with brisk exercise keeps the mind focused and drops stress levels. It doesn’t have to be consecutive – take the stairs, get off the bus one stop earlier (or park in the back of the parking lot) so that over the course of the day your “activities” to increase your heart rate add up to a total of 30 minutes. These measures will maximize your body’s energy supply.
Most of these tips are simple and easy enough to implement. Encouraging a healthy diet and lifestyle can help “sleepy” teens stay awake. #