Vilma Eusébio, schoolteacher in EB1 Elementary School in Telheiras, says that sleepiness in children has to do with late nights, which then reflects on a reduced attention in performing tasks, less motivation or interest to learn and a lower school performance.
Are many children at school sleep-deprived? How does that sleepiness become evident?
They are not many, but it does happen. Sleepiness is reflected on attention and focus, on motivation to learn and of course, on school performance.
There are also many students who, though not showing signs of sleepiness, do not have a peaceful night’s sleep: they usually have a hard time falling asleep or suffer from insomnia. Mysteriously, these children do not always show difficulties in learning.
Does it become clear to you, by talking to their parents, that sleepiness lies in bad sleep habits?
Yes. Most parents are concerned about this issue, but some of them do show these problems. As long as there is no serious health condition, recurrent sleepiness in a child is due to unhealthy sleep habits.
What kind of unhealthy sleep habits?
Generally, in those cases, children go to bed late, which means that they do not have the amount of sleep they need. There is also the “problem” of television or computer games in the bedroom, which nowadays replace traditional book reading at bedtime. These activities, which nowadays make the children’s favourites, imply too much auditory and visual stimulation. At the end of a fuzzy day, filled with all kinds of activities, it is “the icing of the cake” for a restless night.
As for television, it is increasingly frequent in children’s bedrooms, most of the times, without the parent’s supervision.
Are there also other disorders, such as night terrors, nocturnal enuresis, etc.?
Yes, but those kinds of disorders do not easily get diagnosed at school. We generally know about these episodes through parents in individual meetings and only as we discuss particular school difficulties and possible solutions.
How do you try to solve school performance problems caused by bad sleep habits or sleep disorders? Are those interventions successful?
Inevitably, it implies talking to the parents. It is difficult to instil healthy habits in children in the short run, when the ones who define the rules and care about its keeping are grown-ups.
Naturally, there are successful cases, people who are less informed but nonetheless appreciate being reminded of certain things. But in other people this behaviour goes on…
Whenever possible other technicians are also called in to help and parents are advised to take their children to see a paediatrician or to the health centre. If the child is already being followed by a psychologist or paedopsychiatrist the whole family is asked to be involved in the scenery as well.
Do you notice that very sleepy children show impaired interaction with other children and, consequently, their self-esteem gets diminished by it?
It depends. I do not necessarily see any difference in the interaction with others. However, they draw more attention to themselves by arriving late at school. I think it might be difficult for parents to wake them up and have them ready in time for the classes. Inside the classroom they appear absent-minded, we have to draw their attention many times and sometimes they even fall asleep. Alongside with low school performance, this will have severe consequences in the development of self-esteem and self-confidence in any child.
Do school subjects somehow include talking about the need to sleep well and the basic sleep hygiene habits, like going to bed and getting up at regular times and not eating at bedtime, aimed at improving sleep quality?
In Studies of the Environment, specifically in the “Discovering yourself: the body and the body’s health” unit, which extends for four years, healthy life habits are discussed. This includes food, body care, physical exercise and relaxation.
Does it go into detail as to how sleep functions and to the associated physiological mechanisms, for example, in the fourth grade?
No, it does not go into those details.
How do children depict sleep, or lack of it, in texts and drawings? What about dreams?
In school context, sleep is mostly depicted as a magic world where all the great, marvellous and mysterious things happen… It is in dreams that wishes come true and where daily episodes are lived out with either the security or insecurity that characterizes individuals.
They normally do not depict lack of sleep or difficulties in falling asleep.
Did the schools you have taught in include learning and training sessions about sleep quality and hygiene? Do you think it is, or would be, important?
Not that I am aware of, no. But I think it starts to be crucial.
What about learning sessions aimed at teachers?
There are some sessions generally promoted by private institutions which sometimes are open to the general public. But I don’t believe it is part of the priority set of teacher’s training courses.
Do you recall any funny story having to do with sleep (in school context)?
It is not exactly funny, but rather strange and alarming. One day I was called in to one of the school playground. A student that frequently fell asleep in class had fallen asleep in the middle of the playground area, right under the area where dozens of his colleague were playing, jumping and shouting… If I hadn’t witness that, I would probably find the story a bit too over the top.
Of course, whenever a colleague unintentionally woke him up, he would react sharply, with incredible bad temper. I was flabbergasted. Then we would curl up and go back to sleep. When the bell rang, he jumped to his feet and ran to the classroom. I once again reported the “incident” to the parents and to the technician who was following the student, but still we did not manage to solve the case…