When I was in high school, sleeping in class was strictly prohibited—to the point where even laying your head on the desk wasn’t allowed. Such is the case for most students in the American school system.
But a younger generation of teachers is advocating a stop to this no-sleep rule—here’s why.
‘The Nicest Thing A Teacher Can Do For A Student’
TikTok user @bcholeman (Brandon Holeman) shared a video in February 2020 about letting his students sleep in class. “Sometimes the nicest thing a teacher can do for a student is let them come in, lay their head down and go to sleep,” he says in the video.
Holeman goes on to describe a situation in which one of his students came to class visibly upset. “His buddy comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, be easy on this guy today. His grandfather died last night.”
“My first thought was, ‘Why is he even here today?’” Holeman said. “My second thought was, “He’s here. What can I do about it?’”
Holeman explained that after passing a test out to the class, he wrote a message to the student on a Post-It note and stuck it on his test. “It basically just says, ‘I’m sorry for your loss, and I’m praying for you. You already have a 100 on this test. Don’t even worry about it. Just turn it in.’”
“Life can hit hard,” Holeman’s caption reads. “We all need some grace.”
‘It’s The Only Place They Feel Safe Enough To Sleep’
Other teachers feel the same way. Tiktok user @mrs.old shared Holeman’s same sentiments this past April. “Sometimes, when a student falls asleep in my class, I just let them sleep,” she says in the video.
“I’ve learned from a few of my students that the only reason they’re sleeping is because it’s the only opportunity they have to sleep,” said @mrs.old. “Some students share with me that it’s the only place they feel safe enough to fall asleep.”
“So, if it means they get a little bit of a snooze during ELA,” she continues, “that’s okay.” @mrs.old also said students who catch a snooze earlier in the day are more likely to be motivated for the next activity and less likely to have an attitude problem.
Another teacher on TikTok, @survivingteaching, doesn’t allow sleeping in his class, but he agrees with using a gentler approach on sleepy students.
When he finds a student sleeping in his class, he says it’s an “indication to me that there’s an issue. Instead of stopping my lecture, I continue walking around. When I get to the student whose head might be down, I whisper, ‘Is everything okay? Are you sick?’”
“If they say no,” he continues, “I say, ‘You can’t be sleeping in my class. You can put your head down, but I need your eyes open and focused on me,’ and they will do that. And you avoid any conflict in your class, and you can move on.”
‘If I Had Teachers Like You, I Wouldn’t Have Dropped Out’
The comment section of Holeman’s viral TikTok video is full of appreciative students, both current and former.
“You make me believe in the power of schools again,” one user wrote.
“If I had teachers like you, I wouldn’t have dropped out,” added another.
Holeman’s video has garnered 7.4 million views and over 80,000 comments, and the overwhelming reaction has been positive and supportive.
Current and former students aren’t the only ones supporting this idea—the medical experts agree, too.
Sleeping Can Be A Sign Of Something More Serious
You’ve likely seen the trope of a rebellious, lackadaisical student sleeping in class. But medical experts caution against this stereotype, saying that sleep issues can indicate something far more serious.
Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, psychologist and CEO of Omega Recovery treatment center, recently spoke to USA Today about this.
Sleep issues, Kardaras explains, are a “red flag for depression. People who suffer from clinical depression will have a sleep disorder or sleep dysregulation—sleeping too much or too little.”
We often associate depression with older adults. But according to the World Health Organization, depression is the fourth leading cause of illness and disability among teens ages 15 to 19.
Because children are less likely to seek counseling of their own volition, depression in youth can often go unnoticed. When it is noticed, studies show that it manifests through concentration difficulties, low energy and psychosomatic symptoms like headaches and nausea.
How To Help, Not Hurt, A Chronic Snoozer
In addition to depression, several other factors may contribute to a child’s inability to stay awake in class. One of them, Kardaras explains, might be the pandemic.
“Kids were already adversely impacted by too much screen time pre-COVID,” said Kardaras. “As Zoom learning became the preferred delivery system, you essentially doubled young people’s screen time.”
The disruptive effects of blue light and an increased social media use contribute to sleep issues, depression and anxiety in children and teens.
Rather than punishing a sleepy student, most educational professionals suggest getting a parent, counselor or both involved. This helps address the underlying causes of a student’s inability to stay awake instead of exacerbating them.
Think back to how often you found yourself sleepy and inattentive in school. Wouldn’t you have wanted a teacher that extended grace, not shame, like Holeman?