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Changes in COVID-related Sleep Patterns for Students

Tired black student yawning and stretching during his remote studies from home. African American youth exhausted from getting ready for test or writing coursework, feeling sleepy in front of laptop

School and educational learning have taken on so many different formats and schedules during this pandemic that have created a whole new set of circumstances for the sleep patterns of students. At best, the hybrid schedule has created more sleep for some students and less for others. This inconsistency will create a need for adjustment as we enter this next school year.

As in any set of changes there will be a period of adjustment that may create fatigue and some sense of disorientation for our students as they adapt to a new and more predictable school schedule.

Medical Life Sciences News has recently released some research on this topic. I think it is helpful for all educators to be aware of some of the realities of these changes in student sleep behavior. Here are some excerpts on this topic as reviewed by Emily Henderson.

A new paper in Sleep indicates that different teaching strategies schools imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in dramatic differences in when and how much students slept.

Notably, students receiving online instruction without live classes or scheduled teacher interactions woke up the latest and slept the most. Students receiving in-person instruction in schools woke up the earliest and slept the least.

Beginning in March 2020, as states and cities imposed lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19, schools and school districts began to teach children very differently. Some schools retained in-person instruction in school buildings. Others moved to hybrid instruction.

Some went entirely online. There were dramatic differences in scheduling requirements (e.g., specific start time, day-to-day variability in scheduled instruction). Online options also differed. Some schools required students to sign on to online classes at specific times and interact with teachers directly. Other schools did not offer scheduled classes and student work was entirely self-directed…

Tired tutor fall asleep at workplace. Tired student lean on desk. Exhausting lesson. Teacher exhausted after hard working day. Woman tired in school classroom. School pedagogue stressful occupation

Students, in both middle and high school, got more sleep if they had later school start times. However, even when students had the same early start times, more students with online courses requiring them to sign in at specific times got sufficient sleep than students receiving in-person instruction.

Just as students will have to adjust, teachers will also need to become aware of the differences that a regular schedule and earlier start times will make to students. Research has been clear that later starts would help with sleep patterns of students. This adjustment may make the problems of attention and retention more difficult as we return to live school and predictable schedules where students may get much less sleep. It will be helpful for all educators to have a raised awareness and to be patient with this aspect of how students will enter this 2021-22 school year.

Gerry Vassar

President/CEO

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