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Measuring sleep and its effect on engagement

September 18, 2011

Now that I’ve been bitten by the data bug with my mindset measurements, I see chances to explore all sorts of questions with my students.

One of the other big topics for the metacognition curriculum I want to teach is the value of sleep. So after Dr. Tae tweeted this awesome Stanford Slepiness Scale, I put together this quick warm up activity.

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The results aren’t too surprising, at least to me and most other adults.

A plot of engagement vs hours of sleep last night for my students. In this graph, higher engagement numbers correspond to more sleepiness.

The one thing is the Stanford Sleepiness scale seems a bit backward at first glance in this graph, 1 is the most engaged, while 7 is the least engaged.

My students were pretty stunned by this graph, we talked about it for a few minutes and students saw that getting less than 6 hours a sleep at night all but guaranteed you would not be fully alert the next day. The results were so powerful that I even had a student come to me later that day to discuss strategies to get more sleep, giving a long commute and busy schedule.

A week later, we had a late start due to parents night (footage coming soon), and so I decided to take the same survey data agin.

Student self reported how many hours they slept last night along with their present level of engagement, on a day when we had a late start (school started at 9am).

There are a couple of very interesting things about this graph. First, obviously every student got way more sleep than usual. Second, the engagement is much better—every student is reporting that they feel awake, and all but a few are functioning at high levels. I find it most interesting that the trend exhibited by the data, as indicated by the best fit line is exactly the same as before. I’m now very curious to continue taking this data over the course of the year and see where it leads.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. taras15 permalink
    September 18, 2011 10:49 am

    I agree wholeheartedly that sleep is key to alertness. However, let me play devil’s advocate here and mention that ever since I entered HS, I have seen that the amount of time work takes, as a general rule, pushes back the sleep time. Additionally, when lots of students (not me personally), have late ending extra-curriculars, they don’t start homework until extremely late, culminating in an average end time past midnight. How do we increase the amount of sleep within these necessary constraints. Or are these constraints changeable?

    • September 18, 2011 11:05 am

      Tara, I totally sympathize with the challenge of getting enough sleep, completing homework, and maintaining a healthy social and extracurriculuar life. But these constraints must be changeable. First, students must come to value sleep as the critical ingredient for success and make sure that whatever they choose they build a schedule that has a foundation of 8-9 hours of sleep, every night (I know this is hard to to). Teachers and coaches must recognize this, and adjust our workloads accordingly. We also need feedback from students when they aren’t able to get everything done, and students need to be willing to make the hard choices to do less in order to get the sleep they need to do better. Simply staying up past midnight to get things done doesn’t give teachers this information, and it often only leads to games of sleep misery poker—”I only slept 6 hours last night because of my English paper.” –“I’ll raise you a history reading on top of your English paper that kept me up until 2am.”

      I’ve written into my syllabus that “choosing to go to sleep rather than staying up to work is always the right choice in this class.” I think most teachers would welcome a discussion from an earnest student who is struggling to sleep and complete all the work for a particular class. This is not saying that the teacher will suddenly make all your homework go away, but I think the teacher may have some tips for working more efficiently.

      There are students out there who get 8-9 hours of sleep, get their homework done and manage to lead a healthy extracurricular and social life. We don’t see or hear about them that often, because they’re often taking advantage of that wasted time when everyone else (myself sometimes included) is complaining about their workload in the hallway to get stuff done. We should figure out tips from these students and share them.

      • taras15 permalink
        September 18, 2011 2:45 pm

        Right, I personally manage to get 8-9 hrs of sleep on avg and complete my homework. I was merely playing devils advocate to explore options. 🙂 I too believe that it’s possible, and appreciate that teachers are willing to accommodate sleeping problems.

        • September 18, 2011 2:51 pm

          And you maintain a blog, an active presence on twitter, and significant extracurricular involvement. So you’re one of those students who needs to share her secrets. Blog post? My bet is you don’t spend your free periods in the ground floor hallway getting yelled at by bio teachers for being too loud. 🙂

        • taras15 permalink
          September 18, 2011 8:14 pm

          ok since it wont let me reply to your comment….

          Mr. Burk,
          you got that right! My secrets aren’t very secretive; work during all free time save fruit break and lunch, be productive during backwork and work once you reach home (break for food and extra curriculars of course :D). That way, if you finish early, you can reward yourself with tv or free reading and still get to bed on time.

          Hope that didn’t come accross preachy :)!

  2. Mecia permalink
    September 18, 2011 11:47 am

    Infant/ toddler research states sleep is more important than nutrition. Adolescent research states they need 10-12 hours of sleep a day. John, wonder if our students & parents truly understand this basic need?

  3. September 18, 2011 9:14 pm

    Not exactly earth-shattering information, is it? Perhaps we should start re-emphasizing the novel concept of school being for the pursuit of academic endeavors and not for spending hours and hours and hours each day on extra-curricular stuff. I cringe at the amount of time kids spend in the gym and on the sports field.

    • taras15 permalink
      September 18, 2011 9:28 pm

      But isn’t that all an attempt to mold well rounded, non burnt out students/children/learners?

      • September 20, 2011 8:43 am

        If you want ‘non-burned out students’, then, after they’ve dealt with an incredibly demanding academic program you should allow ‘em to watch some TV, hang out at the mall and spend time on facebook rather than have to commit to programs that require COLOSSAL (and disproportionate) amounts of their remaining, precious time.

        • Agnes permalink
          September 21, 2011 8:14 pm

          The parent piece is essential. When my kids were in HS at Westminster, I had to fight them every year because they wanted to sign up for way too many extracurriculars. Parents should look up for their kids’ health, first and foremost, and this starts with proper nutrition and proper rest.

  4. September 19, 2011 2:06 pm

    Nice, John. We did this “live” in class today — I showed 9th graders some Excel tricks, we talked about interpreting data, and I did my best to try and decriminalize being drowsy in class by telling a story from college where I was continually fighting sleep in a class I *loved*. I loved the professor, too, and wanted so much for him to know that his work was meaningful to me.

    Yes, Adchempages, no breaking news here, but a nice chance for students to be direct with themselves around yet another obstacle in the path of learning. I agree that there is the larger question of what is school for (and I might not answer “academics” — *gasp*) — many students seem bound up by the athletic schedule for the wrong reasons. (If I don’t play, then I won’t get into college!)

    I set a 45-minute limit on homework; class meets every-other day.

    Taras15, you rock.

    John, when do *you* sleep??

    • September 19, 2011 4:51 pm

      Great question. I’ll plead two things here. 1. In regards to sleep, I’m a big fan of do as I say, not as I do, and 2. I have a 10 month old, and adapting to her schedule has shaved some time off my sleep schedule.

  5. September 27, 2011 10:58 am


    Grant Wiggins here (author of Understanding by Design). Love the blog. Timely that I found you. I have a client – large urban district – that wants to develop cutting-edge online courses. I proposed starting with Physics, using the Gizmos from as a proof of concept, and working with vendors – roller coaster sims, Angry Birds developers – to build out a purely problem-based course as a prototype. Would you – and your readers here! – be so kind as to take a minute or two to chat with me and/or send me any ideas/links/resources? Much appreciated!

    Grant Wiggins

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