Knackered Pupils

Tired teachers make lousy teachers and tired pupils make lousy learners. Combine the two and you’ve got a bit of a problem.

We all take it as given that teachers are going to be tired, that goes with the job and the business of life being an adult.

But what about pupils? Do we consider how tired they are and how this interferes with their behaviour and day-to-day experiences? Little or no sleep means little or no learning.

Sometimes children are tired because they are doing so much. Some start really early to get to school on time and then it’s lesson after lesson with perhaps lunchtime clubs and extra-curricular activities after-school. Then there is the journey home (which isn’t always just a ten minute walk away) and homework.

On top of this, where you live really matters. Take Sammy. He’s a former pupil of mine and I tried my best to help him but there were some things out of my control.

You see Sammy was always tired. He seemed to be always yawning and looked permanently knackered. How he kept going I’ll never know. Sammy was a good lad with a supportive mum but where he lived made him the way he was.

Sammy and his mum lived in a flat above a shop that closed around 11pm so there was constant noise. The flat was also located on a road that was never quiet. It pulsated with traffic day and night and so Sammy and his mum were just not getting any rest. Their neighbours didn’t help either playing music in the small hours with lots of comings and goings. Recommended amounts of sleep per night mean nothing when your environment is stacked against you. Closing the windows and wearing ear-plugs just don’t work.

Before anyone says, “Why didn’t they just move?” then I have to inform you that the real-world doesn’t work like that.

Sammy often told me that he hated where he lived and so did his mum. I couldn’t help unless we gave him time for a nap during the day. This was common practice decades ago but now, well, can you imagine the opposition – it would interfere with someone’s data.

If children are tired then it could be because of a late night, too much screen time, sharing a bedroom or parents arguing. It could be because of drug dealing outside your house or traffic noise. Not everyone lives in a safe and quiet environment conducive to a good night’s sleep and arrives bright-eyed and bushy tailed to school ready for learning. Some children are glad to leave home for a few hours but they also know the day at school will be relentless.

Rest and sleep really do matter and we need to appreciate how some pupils aren’t being deliberately awkward, irritable and tetchy. They aren’t being lazy or purposely inattentive – they are just fighting another day and are bloody knackered. Well-rested children do better at school but getting that rest for some is impossible. Some children are never free of stress.

Getting a good night’s sleep leads to greater success at school.


For more insights so the research by Reut Gruber, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University Director, Attention Behaviour and Sleep Laboratory, Douglas Research Centre

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