Sleep, Teens, Church and School

I was in conversation with several of the young teens at the church tonight during the time I teach them worship skills as a part of our midweek program.  We were talking about what it takes to keep them engaged in worship and how easily they became distracted.

In conversation, I began to ask them about the school classes in which they felt the most interest and the ones where they had the least interest.  They liked best the classes where they had hands-on work:  especially art and science where they actually did things.  The ones hardest for them were reading and English.  Every one of them spoke of their struggles to stay awake in many of their classes and even complained about teachers who woke them when they fell asleep.

My question to them:  how much sleep did they actually get each night?  Not one was anywhere close to getting adequate sleep.  Most are stumbling through their days on five to seven hours of sleep.

More and more research shows that most all healthy, growing teens need at least nine hours of sleep a night.

These kids are just exhausted and their learning suffers greatly from it.  All drink caffeinated drinks of some sort, although all claim to keep them very much limited with only occasional use (which I very much doubt, I admit).

But I am concerned for them. They live in a sleep deficit, which the body processes very much like alcohol intake in terms of limitations in cognitive and reasoning behaviors.

Is there any way to change what I suspect is a huge issue for our teens?  We all know how much better infants thrive when they have good sleeping habits and get plenty of rest.  Why do we think that teens (and adults!) no longer have that need?

8 thoughts on “Sleep, Teens, Church and School

  1. I agree wholeheartedly that kids nowadays rarely get enough sleep. I too am guilty of the same and therefore do not set a good example. I have a son who is a sophomore in high school and is an active member of several school bands. His is an active life and his rehearsal schedule makes it difficult to achieve a consistent good night’s sleep. Recently he qualified for All Regions band with a concert at a nearby high school. Rehearsal schedule had him home at 10 pm Friday night and back to rehearsal the next morning at 7:15 a.m. We attended the concert that afternoon, hearing both the concert and symphonic bands perform. Upon listening to the beautiful music…sounding so similar to the remarkable music of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, albeit a somewhat smaller version…it was then I realized that his lack of sleep and the many hours of practice (which usually occurs at a time when he should be in bed), and that of all the other students participating in the wonderful event, really paid off!

    I like to think there is a simple solution to this concern, but alas it is a point of frustration my wife and I deal with each and every night, no matter how early or late. (sigh)


  2. As to the sleep issue: I have a 16 year old who plays a rugged sport, goes to an academically rigorous school, is active at the church and , like most, fights the fight against his own body to stay up as late as possible, even when a sometimes-less-than-understanding Dad is threatening consequences (in a kind, supportive Christian way, of course :-)) ). I don’t get it – except when I remember the hour and a half telephone conversations I used to have with my high school girlfriend (you know, the kind where you said nothing of import for all but 45 seconds… but it was time spent together…) when my Mom and Dad were threatening me…

    But he also has a drug problem – he gets ‘drug to church’ by a mom and dad who had the same ‘drug’ problem when they were growing up. Church is where he has strong friendships based on things like care, love, shared experience and support when he went through the daily struggles of a slowly dying grandparent that he loved dearly and witnessed in close proximity. A church-supported school has done all that and more for his high school educational experience. I don’t pretend to have done much more than steer him to a few of the right places. The Holy Spirit working through the lives of incredible men and women of faith has done the rest.

    I also think the sleep deprivation is part of the separation/independence thing. I am not saying they need to be running in deficit all the time – I am saying it is different than babies. In the same way I would not give appropriate infant nutrition to a growing teen, I would not recommend infant sleep for the developing teen mind. I believe part of the sleep struggle is the individuation process at work – wrestling, as it were, with rules and the teen’s very biology – as if to say, “I CAN make it on 5 hours sleep, I WILL show them they are wrong, rules are made to be broken…” I know I have learned far more from my failures than my successes… and they will, too.

    In our home and in the homes of most of our friends, the critical issue is getting ’em off of computers, tablets and smartphones. That’s why we have ours charged at night in the family room – no electronics in the bedroom (I started giving mine up, too). We don’t need to cut classes – we need to manage the time with which we have been blessed better..

    How do we determine the things that “make people successful in life”? I am not a scientist, but my year of chemistry was helpful in giving me a basic understanding of that part of our physical world (and a healthy respect for acids, alkalines and heavy metals…). I am not a rocket scientist, but calculus, physics, and advanced math helped develop critical thinking skills. We don’t ‘need’ art and music to be successful in life, if your definition of success is a job that pays a living wage.

    I am far less willing to cut core classes just to teach kids to balance their monthly expenditures instead of teaching them the WHY (since that is the derisive question asked – “why do I need to know any of this bull….”) The hard lessons we have in front of us as a nation right now are a direct result of us forgetting basic civics, economics, arithmetic and getting along on the playground.

    Now, Angie, if you are talking about a Western European system where children are moved into vocational and academic educational tracks between the ages of 10 and 12, your suggestion has real traction. This chart is really eye-opening about when decisions are made about who progesses into an academic/university educational track:
    It is, however, something that would require a sea-change attitude in Washington, starting with my President, about education in the United States.

    Instead of being willing to show respect to everyone regardless of educational background or job status, we seem far more intent in saying ‘everybody ought to be able to go to college!!’. The implicit message is ‘if you want to be successful you NEED to go to college’. Nothing could be further from the truth, when a huge number of men and women would be far happier, far more well-equipped for a successful, productive life and FAR less in personal debt if they never saw a college campus. Just because someone goes to vocational training does NOT mean they should not learn a second language or take classes in basic music, art and economics.

    As a nation, we just need to grow our vision – we need to openly show our respect and appreciation for all regardless of station, we need to expand our mind’s eye of possibilities and we need to be more accepting… Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors… hey, I like the sound of that…


    1. Don, just great thinking and analysis here. Have you heard of the film, “Race to Nowhere?” I keep wanting to show it, but it cost $500 for a license to view. However, I understand that it is about the pressures on our youth that seem to give them no space to think and dream and create.

      I also really like the idea of a central charging center for all electronics that is away from the sleeping areas. I’ve been reading that the kinds of light emitted from these devices are playing havoc with our sleep/wake rhythms.

      So much to think about.


    2. Don,
      I don’t mean don’t teach the chemistry and physics or art or music. I’m just saying let’s don’t try and put everyone into the same mold. We are all different thanks to the Father in Heaven and we all have a niche we fit into and all have different gifts. A school that really meets the needs of each individual would teach each child at a level that was challenging yet reachable for them and would allow them to “Own their own learning” As a nation, I believe that we put far too much into the Every child should go to college thing. Chemistry for a chemist should be and is taught at a level that the average accountant would not need. Likewise the accountant would know much more about accounting than the chemist. Each should know something about the other but the depth would be different.
      A well rounded education which includes fine arts as well as core subjects says to employers that a person can learn and can be successful in whatever job you are asking them to do. I tell my students this each time they ask me why they need chemistry. You might not need chemistry for your job, but because you took it and were successful it says you are capable of learning new things and open to learning.

      In my opinion we as a nation and as a state have a long way to go when it comes to education and our young people. One more thought on education. For a nation and society that puts so much importance on everyone going to college, we sure don’t (at least in Texas) pay the teachers a salary that reflects what kind of product we expect them to produce. That being said, I don’t teach for the money, I teach because I love to teach and the money I get pays my bills. I love teaching and I especially like working with special education students and all of my students at the Methodist Children’s Home School in Waco. We learn more than just chemistry and physics in my classrooms.

      If you are ever in the Waco area come check us out. I think you’d find that we are a different kind of school that offers hope to many young people that otherwise might just give up.


  3. Ok, speaking from the standpoint of a science teacher I can say that my students do not get enough rest. Part of it is their fault and part is ours as in the adults. My students are the typical teenager in high school. Juniors and Seniors about to turn 18 and they have jobs and active social lives and of course school.
    Your question asks how do we go back to a way of life where they can get enough sleep. Well, one way would be to reduce the testing that students must take and pass and instead teach what they need to be successful in life. Then start school later in the day and end it earlier with shorter classes and programs that teach the skills the students need. Not all would need chemistry for example, while all would need some math such as how to budget and pay bills and things needed for independent living. Then if math was your thing take more math.
    As for the social life, that wold be almost impossible to change for most. Phones and Facebook are a way of communicating at all hours of the day and night and many of my students do just that. However, one way of easing the pressure of this would be a better family structure or home life. Of course many teens have jobs and try and juggle school and them as well as the social life. Money drives all of this, so perhaps again more family time and less pressure to make money?
    Another problem with many teens that I deal with is a drug problem along with relation problems. You put all of this together with just being a teenager and you get no sleep and the rest is history as they say.
    No wonder test scores go down and teens drop out and families have problems and we have more and more young people homeless.

    Bottom line more family time spent really listening to each other instead of just hi and bye and I’ve got to call so and so or go see so and so or go to work or practice or whatever. And doing things as a family so that values are passed down and respect for self and others comes into play.

    Church is a good way to spend time together. I remember church as an important part of my growing up as a young adult. My family went together and then every Sunday rain, sleet, snow or sunshine we went on a family picnic after church. Yes we even went when it was snowing and freezing cold with ice on the ground. That time was one of the ones I have the fondest memories of. Those times were important to me and I believe they played an important part in my growing up a healthy teenager and later into a healthy adult.

    We can take a lesson from the past and put family and church into the equation and I believe we will see the results we want.


    1. This cuts to the very core of educational issues. I think Maslow did an excellent job simplifying this concept in to his pyramid of the hyerarchy of needs. If one is to learn in an educational setting they must first have the previous levels of the pyramid met before the higher levels can even begin to be addressed. Physiological needs, including sleep, need to first be met before moving on up the pyramid. This is usually referenced when speaking of hunger or safety concerns for a child, but sleep deficit can be equally concerning, especially when it continues over an extended period of time.
      Which brings me to my second thought on the subject. With electronic media the way that our current society demands that it be, available 24/7, it is very difficult for an adolecent to put down or turn off the electronic media and sleep. Who among us has not stayed up too late playing Angry Birds, or reading “Pride and Predjudice” on our e-reader. I feel that it is the duty of parents to enforce a electronic media-free zone in their children’s bedrooms if you expect them to achieve adequete sleep. This might mean that computers or televisions are shut off at a given bed time, an enforced with diligence. If it were considered an issue of neglect, I think it would be treated much differently in our society.
      Energy drinks solicite a complete other concern. I am not sure where to begin with these things. They are marketed toward the exact group of people that your post is concerned about, our youth. Bright logos, and catchy slogans entice the purchase of such addictive substances from the very age group that should need them the least. If i had the natural energy of a teen again, I assure you I would not need a caffeine, taurine and b-12 filled fizzy beverage to endure my day. I wish that marketing for foods containing natural vitamins an mineral that a body needs for healthy living were as exciting as the marketing for energy drinks. Steamed vegetables can “Give you Wings”. A proper diet would provide natural healthy energy from essential nutrients, thus leaving the body with energy for a biorhythm cycle that ends the day with sleep.
      I went a little long on the subject, but those are my thoughts.


      1. Good, good thoughts, Becky. I’d sure like to start a movement in the church to promote necessary physical health as well as vital spiritual health AND include things like financial health as well.


        1. Christy – I would love to see that movement! I know too many people (including myself) who have become so obsessed with ‘being good’ and ‘pleasing God’ (now I am learning that we are already pleasing to God and don’t need to try, but that’s a different story) that we are totally clueless at looking after ourselves physically and financially. I think the church should really have a voice in this.


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