How sleep impacts students’ and teachers’ social emotional health - AZEdNews
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How sleep impacts students’ and teachers’ social emotional health


A Creighton School District Teacher Works With Students During In-person Learning. Photo Courtesy Creighton School District

Over the last few decades, we have seen a great increase in the research around sleep and the impact it has on day-to day-life.  Researchers have studied it with regards to weight gain, athletic performance, driving safely and more. 

Recently there has been a heightened focus on the impact of sleep on emotional health, which in turn has a large impact on social emotional health. 

How sleep impacts students’ and teachers’ social emotional health Dr.-Wish-new-image
Dr. William S. Hesse, Ph.D. founder of Core Purpose Consulting

Can sleep impact stress in teachers and students?

A lack of sleep may increase the level of internal stressors, which include isolation from other adults, deadlines, bells, excessive paperwork, inadequate supplies, preparation and grading. These stressors not only affect the teacher’s health, but instructional class time as well. The combination of teaching and personal pressures makes stress the #1 health problem of classroom teachers. Each stressor uses individuals’ energy and may cause stress hormones to activate.

An educator’s personal stress may also affect immunity. Personal stressors include death of a loved one, car accident, illness of a family member, divorce, debt, lack of sleep and living conditions. Even though personal stressors did not happen at school, each stressor may affect a teacher’s classroom performance. Lack of sleep may contribute to additional internal and external pressures during an educator’s day.

According to a recent article published in Med Sci (Basel) markers indicate that a lack of sleep for children and adolescence can have a negative impact on mental health with regards to ADHD, anxiety, depression, behavior disorders, mood disorders, substance disorders and more.  In adults, we see similar issues with sleep deprivation along with an increase with insomnia. 

As you can see sleeping well on a nightly basis no matter what your age cannot be taken lightly.

This is article 11 of 12 in a series for AZEdNews on the school’s role in best practices for creating healthy learning cultures for educators, students, parents and administrators across America. These resources connect with PreK-20 education levels, all learning environments, and all subjects. This article will unpack ways that sleep impacts the Social and Emotional Health of Students and Teachers. Coming soon to CorePurposeConsulting.com is our non-profit division “Healthy Learning Cultures.”

Sleep recommendations

So, what are the recommendations for optimal sleep by age?

How sleep impacts students’ and teachers’ social emotional health Cindy-Boyum-e1619646215781
Cindy Boyum

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that:

  •  *Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
  •  *Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
  •  *Healthy adults should sleep 7 to 9 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

When a person is sleeping the body and mind are hard at work taking the time needed to repair muscle, organs, and other cells. Chemicals that strengthen your immune system start to circulate in your blood, and key hormones are regulated as well. 

For example, levels of growth hormone go up, and cortisol, which is tied to stress, goes down. This regulation helps a person stay more balanced in the body and mind. 

Have you ever felt foggy after a poor night’s sleep?  This is because sleep significantly impacts brain function. When someone is able to achieve a healthy amount of sleep, the brain’s plasticity or ability to adapt to input improves. 

The opposite is true with a lack of sleep. If we sleep too little, we become unable to process what we’ve learned during the day, and we have more trouble remembering it in the future. So, if sleep impacts hormones, memory and mental health, then one can begin to see the importance of sleep when looking at the social emotional ability of an individual related to their sleeping patterns. 

AAP found in their research, “Adequate sleep duration for age on a regular basis leads to improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health. Not getting enough sleep each night is associated with an increase in injuries, hypertension, obesity and depression, especially for teens who may experience increased risk of self-harm or suicidal thoughts.”

If a person is experiencing emotional disturbances in his/her life such as anxiety, depression and more this can create stress on their ability to interact with others and have a healthy social emotional life.  A person may become more reactive in relationship dynamics, which causes others to create distance in the relationship. 

The opposite can occur as well, which is when self-isolation and avoidance occurs and there is little or no interaction with others and a healthy social emotional lifestyle is difficult to cultivate.  As we can see, if sleep can impact our mental health it becomes clear why the trickle-down concept effects a person’s ability to connect. 

Doctor Henry Emmons’ research shows the ability to connect and feel part of something is imperative when healing from depression and more.  So, if sleep is one of the ways to help heal and create connections for a better overall life, then it’s time to get better at sleeping.

Tips to improve your sleep

Here are some great tips from Harvard Health to improve your sleep, which in turn will improve your mental and social emotional health:

  • Lifestyle changes. Most people know that caffeine contributes to sleeplessness, but so can alcohol and nicotine. Alcohol initially depresses the nervous system, which helps some people fall asleep, but the effects wear off in a few hours and people wake up. Nicotine is a stimulant, which speeds heart rate and thinking. Giving up these substances is best but avoiding them before bedtime is another option.
  • Physical activity. Regular aerobic activity helps people fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep, and awaken less often during the night.
  • Sleep hygiene. Many experts believe that people learn insomnia and can learn how to sleep better. Good “sleep hygiene” is the term often used to include tips like maintaining a regular sleep-and-wake schedule, turning down the thermostat, and keeping the bedroom dark and free of distractions like the computer or television. Some experts also recommend sleep retraining: staying awake longer in order to ensure sleep is more restful.
  • Relaxation techniques. Meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation (alternately tensing and releasing muscles) can counter anxiety and racing thoughts.

In a previous article written by the team at Core Purpose Consulting on “Emotional Intelligence,” sleep is part of the tool set known as H.A.L.T. to decrease your reactivity, focus on your self-care and create a calmer emotional state of mind to nurture healthier social emotional health.  See the H.A.L.T. attachment to download this powerful tool.

As you can see, if a lack of sleep has a negative impact on a person’s mental health that in turn it can have a negative impact on social emotional health as well.  If a person is not sleeping well and develops anxiety, depression, and more, this can have a profound effect on how they interact with others.  Each one of these issues can create the perfect environment to see an increase in reactivity, isolation, detachment and more. 

When a person is lacking sleep and has an increased reactive mood, we see others avoiding or staying away in fear that the person will become aggressive and angry.  This in turn can create a sense of rejection from others which can create anxiety and or lead to a depressed state. 

Taking time to get a healthy night sleep plays a key role in overall health in mind and body, plus it has an impact on how well we connect with others and our world.  So, let’s start getting healthy sleep to create a healthier self and a happy, healthier world.

A student’s perspective…

Amelia F. (Student Wellness Advocacy Team at Sandra Day O’Connor HS)

After tracking my sleep for the week in an at-home sleep study, I will list below, and realizing I did not get enough sleep of the recommended 9 hours and 15 minutes for teens, it motivated me to try and get those hours. To be able to achieve that goal, I had to be off my phone by 8:00 p.m. and do something mindful 10 minutes before bed.

I did not think my phone was really a problem and this was not going to make a difference. I thought I was still going to still have high stress and anxiety levels, but I decided I had nothing to lose.

During that week where I was off my phone by 8:00 pm, and did 30 minutes of yoga before bed, I noticed that I was able to focus more in my classes, I was less self-conscious, I was less stressed, and generally happier.

Grades: My grades went up a little bit even, and I was not as stressed about my tests and homework. Math is something I have always struggled with and because I wasn’t so focused on being tired, I felt confident enough to ask questions. That’s a big deal for me personally because I never do that. Sleep has really impacted my emotional health and wellness in a positive way. I think it’s important to educate yourself about the impact and also prove to yourself that it works. When I got those 9
hours and 15 minutes of sleep, it was a lot easier to be myself and not care as much about what others think about me.

Impact: I cannot stress enough how much your phone hurts you in the long run. The phone is such an addictive device that also makes it hard to fall asleep due to the blue light. Personally, I used to pick up my phone at 8:45 and say to myself “OK, I will check social media and then be done and go to sleep.” The next thing I know it’s 10:00 p.m. So, I frantically put my phone down and try to sleep but I can’t. So, I revert back to my phone and fall asleep with it in my hand. It’s really unhealthy because the last thing I see at the end of the day is a screen and the first thing I see when I wake up is a screen. It’s not only not good for sleep health but the phone is also really toxic.

Social Media: Social media has given me so many mental health problems. I’ve developed even more severe anxiety and some depression. Social media especially makes me stressed and I can’t focus on school and myself in a healthy way. You end up going back to those pictures of perfect girls with flat stomachs and you can’t stop yourself. Sleep seems like a little thing that doesn’t really matter. The reality is it’s one of the most important things to your health. Sleep impacts everything else in your life. Whether that’s in a positive way or a negative way. With all that being said, I encourage all of you, no matter your age to try being off your phone at 8:00 p.m. and doing something mindful and relaxing for 30 minutes before bed. It can be whatever you want like yoga or drawing, as long as a screen is not involved. You may not believe me and that’s OK, but trust me when I say it impacts your life so much. I did not think it was going to work until I tried it. My life would not be the same without this new bedtime routine.

Why sleep is so important

How sleep impacts students’ and teachers’ social emotional health Dr.-Theresa-A.-Smith
Dr. Theresa A. Smith

The Impact of Sleep is the time in our 24-hour life cycle that our body needs to repair and rejuvenate itself. This process is essential for our physical well-being, combatting a poor immune system, and our social-emotional well-being.

Sleep deprivation can exasperate mental health problems. Fifty to 80% of US adults who seek mental health services also have chronic sleep problems, compared to only 10%-18% of adults in the overall U.S. population (Harvard Mental Health Letter, 2020).

Children and teens are 5 to 10 times more likely to become depressed and up to 17 times more likely to become anxious due to inadequate sleep (WeSleep, 2021). Harvard researchers concluded that sleep disorders are more prevalent in adults and teens who suffer from depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

There is an association between school performance and the quality of sleep. Students with inconsistent sleep schedules or duration tend to do worse academically. For some students, the negative impact of sleep deficit manifests as the inability to concentrate, acquire and master new skills, and focus on classwork. Restorative sleep is linked to improved cognitive functions such as learning and memory (Okano, K. et al., 2019).

According to Julie Wright, Chief Sleep Orchestrator and founder of WeSleep, “Sleep is a pillar of physical health, mental health, and wellbeing – essential for tissue repair, cell regeneration, memory consolidation, learning skills and for regulating mood and emotions. Sleep is also known to boost your immune system, so it is a fantastic way to help combat COVID-19 or any infections.” Also, when adults and students get the recommended amount of quality sleep, it improves their ability to “perform better at work and school, be more engaged with [their] friends and family and be happier and perform better all around.”

Student Perspective

Makenzie K. (Student Wellness Advocacy Team at Sandra Day O’Connor HS)

On average, I was able to sleep roughly around 8-9 hours every night. As a result, it led me to be able to work diligently during school and interact socially with other students. It also allowed me to apply a substantial amount of effort to the activities that I had been assigned to complete. In comparison, without being able to have that time to snooze, the lack of sleep will result in a lower performance. In addition, your attitude can be directly affected, depending on how well-rested you are. I’ve noticed that when I’ve been deprived of sleep, that my outlook tends to be filled with more negative connotations.

I noticed that the less I absorbed myself into apps on my electronic devices, the more content I felt within. It’s difficult for many individuals to detach themselves from these kinds of device that we engulf ourselves in. Overall, these unnecessary technological devices only detriment our mental health further. In order to be able to attain the amount of sleep that is recommended, you must detach yourself from the phone.

More ways to improve sleep

Julie Wright, sleep ambassador, speaker, and author of the book The Natural Sleeper (http://www.thenaturalsleeper.com), which provides an introduction to an extensive range of natural, complementary, and alternative solutions, therapies, techniques, and practices, offers the following sleep tips for adults and children.

10 Sleep Tips To Improve Sleep:

  1. Avoid all stimulants 4-6 hours before sleep (coffee, alcohol, cigarettes).
  2. Avoid excessively stimulating activities in the few hours before sleep, including intense exercise. Gentle stretches and relaxing movements are okay.
  3. Plan a 1.5 to 2-hour wind-down period with little to no exposure to screens or TV, especially if it is fully immersive and addictive content. Leaving your TV on in the bedroom while sleeping is far from ideal because even if you sleep throughout, you won’t get much deep sleep. If you must fall asleep with a TV on, then set it to shut off automatically after 45-60 minutes.
  4. Maintain stable blood sugar throughout the day and avoid heavy foods and consuming excessive liquids close to bedtime.
  5. Maintain a regular sleep pattern: same wake-up and bedtime every day, including weekends. Avoid lazy weekend mornings as much as you can.
  6. Ensure that you spend at least 30 minutes outdoors in the natural daylight every day – rain or shine. 
  7. Avoid naps, but if you have to nap, then no longer than 30-40 minutes, and no later than 4 pm to not disrupt your sleep-wake cycles.
  8. Create a sleep-promoting bedroom environment, meaning pitch black, dark, totally quiet; moderate temperature (60-70 °F); fresh air quality; comfortable & quality mattress ( a mattress should be changed 7-10 years!)
  9. Sleep alone if necessary (partner snoring, for example) and do not use the bedroom for recreation or work; instead, it should be strictly dedicated to sleep.
  10. A quiet mind: Create a sense of safety before bedtime, do whatever it takes to feel relaxed, including breathing exercises, meditation, writing in your journal, listening to calming music, or sing!  And definitely avoid obsessing over your sleep; let it happen by itself.

10 Commandments of Sleep Hygiene for Kids from the World Sleep Society:

Age GroupSleep Needed
3 to 12 months14 to 15 hours
1 to 3 years12 to 14 hours
3 to 5 years11 to 13 hours
6 to 12 years10 to 11 hours
12 to 18 years8.5 to 9.5 hours

  1. Age-appropriate bedtime (preferably before 9:00 pm) and wake time.
  2. Keep a consistent bedtime and wake time on weekdays and weekends.
  3. Keep a consistent bedtime routine and wear comfortable clothes in bed, including strong absorbent diapers for infants.
  4. Encourage your child to fall asleep independently.
  5. Avoid bright lights at bedtime and during the night and increase light exposure in the morning.
  6. Keep all electronics, including televisions, computers, and cell phones, out of the bedroom and limit the use of electronics before bedtime.
  7. Maintain a regular daily schedule, including consistent mealtimes.
  8. Have an age-appropriate nap schedule.
  9. Ensure plenty of exercise and time spent outdoors during the day.
  10. Eliminate foods and beverages containing caffeine, including many sodas and teas.

WeSleep, is a wellbeing provider focused on sleep, providing webinars, workshops, lectures, discussion panels, 1-to-1 consultations, and therapeutic sessions on sleep deprivation and insomnia to a wide range of organizations and business clients. More information on WeSleep can be found at WeSleep: www.WeSleep.co.uk and follow Julie Wright’s social media: @WeSleepUK on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Linkedin

Sleep Study results for students

Ryan L. (Student Wellness Advocacy Team at Sandra Day O’Connor HS)

I have been incorporating two different ways of living into my daily routine, as well as 150 of my colleagues. First, I would get off my phone at 8:00 at night until I wake up for the new day, second, I would meditate in the morning for 5 minutes and before bed for 5 minutes. I noticed many differences in how I felt doing this challenge but three stuck out to me. One is I felt more focused on my day-to-day routine. I nearly cut out procrastination and just felt more like doing day-to-day work. Second, I felt more in tune with myself. Third, I felt as if I were more aware of my surroundings, had mental clarity, and just overall felt smarter. 

I knew I didn’t procrastinate in this period, because recently I have been pushing school assignments back to later in the day, but on the first day of combining these practices when I woke up the next morning, I seemed to have a laser focus on whatever school assignments I had to do. Also, oddly enough, when I exercised, I felt like I had more energy. And I was more aware of my surroundings because I felt less distracted. When you are off your phone for a significant amount of time you feel like there is one more problem out of your life. It’s as if you just overcame a big hurdle in life and you have a great feeling of achievement, gratification, and relief. 

So, in the final analysis of this challenge, my life improved from implementing this challenge in my life. Not only did I feel accomplished in the end and I felt like I overcame something, I felt amazing during it. Today there are so many dangerous challenges that people participate in on social media, but today I want you to challenge yourself to make a positive change. I am going to implement this into my routine in the morning and at night to help maximize my ability to perform in life, and I encourage anyone reading this to take the chance on this positive challenge and take a step to increase your emotional wellness. Below is an example of the sleep challenge for you to try at home.

How sleep impacts students’ and teachers’ social emotional health image

Alison P. (Student Wellness Advocacy Team at Sandra Day O’Connor HS)

My Personal Experience With Altering My Sleep Habits involved a 3-night, in-home sleep activity, which allowed me to positively alter my routine and schedule to better myself. Monday night was like the control group in the experiment, because this was before we talked about better night-time practices in class. I used my phone for 45 minutes before I went to bed at 10. I then woke up at 5:30. This was a total of 7 ½ hours of sleep. I woke up twice during the night between 3 and 5 am. It wasn’t difficult to get back to sleep, but I felt groggy and tired in the morning. In class on Tuesday, we talked about not using your phone after 8 pm and keeping it 6 feet away from you while you slept.

I did use my phone after 8 pm, but when I went to bed around 10, I left my phone downstairs and set my alarm on my Alexa. I found it difficult to go to sleep at first, but after 20 minutes I fell asleep. I didn’t wake up during the night. I woke up at 5:20 instead of 5:30 because we also talked about setting aside 10 minutes for yourself in the morning and 5 at night to reflect and think about life.

I found this time extremely helpful in gathering my thoughts, but I found it hard to concentrate because I was very tired when I woke up. On Wednesday I set my phone downstairs and went to bed at 10:20 which is a little later than the other days. I did set aside the five minutes before I slept and the ten minutes in the morning. I found this extremely beneficial to my mood and I wasn’t as tired as the other two days, even though I got less sleep. I woke up once at 2 a.m., another at 4 a.m., and another at 5 a.m. but I got back to sleep easily, and it didn’t impact me. We also talked about having a routine schedule before you go to bed. This means that you do the same things before you go to sleep every night. For example, showering, then reading a book for 30 minutes, and then going to sleep. I didn’t do this, but if I did, I think it would have made me fall asleep faster and positively impacted my mood in the morning. I will be sure to try this in the future.

My Advice to the Reader: Overall, putting my phone away from me and setting aside mindful minutes before and after bed positively impact my mood and attitude towards the day. Little tweaks in your schedule before and after you sleep can heavily affect how you take on the day and how you feel. Disconnecting from technology and connecting with your inner thoughts and emotions can not only improve your quality of sleep, but also improve your emotional wellness.

Jarom L. (Student Wellness Advocacy Team at Sandra Day O’Connor HS)

Sleep and emotional health

For me I always sleep fairly good, and I know from experience that when I do not sleep good I am grumpy. I tried an at-home sleep study to not be on my cell phone past 8 p.m. Since, I do not have a cell phone, this was easy. Although there are nights that I play video games and if I do not do anything to calm my brain down then I do not sleep, so I tend to relate the two of them in the same context.

Whenever I do not sleep then I am not in the normal head space I usually am. It seems that I lose all motivation to do anything. Also, I do not treat people like I normally would, I am very short with them and I am just not a nice person to be around. Not sleeping also affects me as a student. when I do not get good sleep then I am not as focused and tend to complete assignments wrong. If you are staying up till 1 in the morning and have to wake up early to get ready for school, then you are not going to have enough sleep. You will probably not do very good in school and this could affect you in the long run if you never catch up on your sleep and get bad grades. 

Also not sleeping could be life threatening in some cases. If you are able to drive and you did not get enough sleep then you could get into a really bad crash. You will start with the head bob and this is a very clear sign that you need to pull over and get some rest. Some people will try to fight the feeling of sleep, but it is inevitable. No matter how many energy drinks you have had or how loud the music is you will fall asleep. This could end up in a very bad crash, this could cause serious injuries for you and others.

I found that I sleep best if I do something to bring my attention away from the problems of the word. The most sleep that I was able to get was about 8 hours and 30 min (you should be getting 9 hours and 15 minutes as a teenager). I am going to extend the same challenge to you that was giving to me, because it was able to help.

The first thing I have already mentioned is to not be on your phone past 8 p.m. The second thing is to just take 5 minutes to do anything that you need to to bring you back to reality. This could be mindfulness, meditating, or reading a book. Just do something that is not related to electronics. Try this in the morning after waking up and before you go to bed and see how it makes you feel. You may feel as surprised as I was to see the difference in how I felt throughout the school day.

The saying “early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” is not just a thing for parents to get their children to bed. Sleep will significantly impact your grades, your life and the people you are around and drive around will thank you.

Take action

We as students and educators can take action. Spread challenge ideas and raise awareness to connect ways that sleep can impact the social and emotional state of our school cultures.

How sleep impacts students’ and teachers’ social emotional health Healthy-Learning-Cultures

The Best Practices for Creating Healthy Learning Cultures is the best resource to assist with this advocacy component.

Resources:

Our mission at Core Purpose Consulting is to revolutionize education by shifting the focus to the Whole Child. By helping schools to achieve healthy school and community environments, social and emotional climates, healthy communities, healthy learning, movement driven learning concepts, educational equity, healthy leadership, physical education and activity programs, nutrition programs, and complete active school programming. The following featured resources can be found at CorePurposeConsulting.com

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