Imagine for moment what a classroom would look like if all the students were legally intoxicated, having just consumed two alcoholic drinks before sitting down in their seats. This image (which hopefully requires some imagination for most educators to conjure up!) would likely produce a very negative reaction from most educators. Imagine again, if the same classroom and same students had the same impairment level, but caused by another factor? Would and should the reaction of be the same?
Research has shown that sleep is a critical component in brain development and learning. We all know that sleep is a biological imperative, affecting all humans. It is a critical variable in people’s ability to function (Loehr and Schwartz, 2003: 55). Despite its importance, most educators tend to dismiss such factors as being outside of their control and beyond the jurisdiction of the school. Perhaps this view is correct, but it does not change the fact that a lack of sleep seriously impairs cognitive performance. In fact, ’stay awake longer than 18 consecutive hours and your reaction speed, short-term and long-term memory, ability to focus, decision-making capacity, math processing, cognitive speed, and spatial orientation all start to suffer.’ (Fryer, 2006). Plenty of research also demonstrates how proper sleep cycles are essential of for memory consolidation and learning, as well as in helping to determine overall health and performance.
To understand the seriousness of sleep deprivation and its effects, it is insightful to compare the affects on the body of alcohol to sleep deprivation. Sleeping only 4-5 hours per night for a week, or going without any sleep for 24 hours, ‘induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%’. (Fryer, 2006). International school teachers, especially those teaching in the high school, are probably familiar with such situations and have looked out on a class with sleepy students gazing back at them.
So why would we react so strongly if the kids were drinking, but dismiss impairment caused by other means? Food for thought…