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“Will Sleeping More Make Me Smarter?” — A Lesson I’m Trying This Week


Readers know that I’ve been doing a series of experimental lessons in my mainstream ninth-grade class (and modifying them for my Intermediate English class) on helping them find ways to motivate themselves to want to work harder at learning. These lessons have included ones on the brain being a muscle that grows with exercise; the long-term importance of developing more self-control; goal-setting skills; and the discipline of visualizing success.

I talk about the importance of helping students find their own motivations in my forthcoming book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work, and will be expanding on that idea in my third book, which will be published by Eye On Education in 2011.

A post by Susan Ohanian today prompted me to create another lesson in this series, and I’ll be trying it out sometime this week. Susan’s post reminded me about a chapter in the excellent book, Nurture Shock, that shares the results of studies that document how teen sleep habits affect them.

Fortunately, the co-author of the book, Po Bronson, published a version of that particular chapter in New York Magazine as the article Snooze Or Lose, and it’s available online for free.

I’m going to start out in both of my classes asking students to complete Part One of a short survey, which can be downloaded here (Part Two of the survey, which I talk about later in this post, is part of the same download). They’ll then tell a partner what they feel comfortable sharing from it.

After that, my mainstream English class will read a page-and-a-half excerpt I’ve modified from the Bronson article. I don’t think I can legally post how I modified it, but I can share the Read Aloud I’ve developed for my Intermediate English class that highlights the most important points (teachers can easily create their own page-and-a-half version of the article). That Read Aloud will substitute for the excerpt, since the article is too advanced for my ELL’s — even with the modifications I’ve made. Here’s the Read Aloud:


Studies show that people under twenty-one get an hour less of sleep each night than they did 30 years ago. Scientists have found that this loss of an hour hurts people because brains are still developing and growing until the age of twenty-one. A lot of this developing and growing happens while teenagers are asleep.

Every study done shows a connection between sleep and school grades.

Teenagers who get A’s average fifteen more minutes than B students.

B students get eleven minutes more sleep than C students.

C students get ten minutes more sleep than D students.

Less sleep hurts the brain’s ability to remember new information. It especially hurts the ability to learn a second language. Less sleep also tends to make you feel more depressed.

Sleeping less also makes your body want to create more fat. Children who get less than eight hours of sleep are three times more likely to get fat.

After students read the excerpt in my mainstream class, and after sharing the Read Aloud in my Intermediate English class, I’ll then do a Read Aloud sharing some ideas on how to sleep better. It’s adapted from a piece written by Ashley Merryman (Nurture Shock’s co-author) that’s titled How to Get Kids to Sleep More:


• You will sleep better if the temperature is cooler in your room.

• If you watch TV or use the computer in the half-hour before you go to bed, experiencing the brightness of the screen will make it more difficult for you to get to sleep.

• It’s important to go to bed at a consistent time. If you stay up late some nights, it will make it more difficult for you to get to sleep on nights you go to bed earlier.

I’ll ask students to take a minute to think of other things that might help (reading before they go to sleep, etc.), and then have them share.

I’ll then give students Part Two of the survey. It basically asks students to summarize what they learned; asks if they feel like they want to sleep more and, if so, for how long; and what are they going to do to make it happen. They’ll then tell a partner what they feel comfortable sharing.

I’ll have students staple the two surveys together and turn them in to me. I’ll make copies, return them, and they’ll add it to the goal sheets they’ve prepared for the new semester.

Here’s my specific plan for the mainstream class:

1) Take survey, share
2) Read first four paragraphs (introduction & lack of sleep’s effect on grades) on their own & write a one sentence summary.
3) Share with partner. I’ll ask a couple of students to share what they wrote with the class.
4) With a partner, take turns reading the next five paragraphs on how lack of sleep can lead to inattentiveness & depression. Write a one sentence summary & make a connection. Again, I’ll ask a couple of students to share with the class.
5) Still be with the same partner, either read aloud or silently the section on how lack of sleep tens to increase weight gain. Write a summary sentence. I’ll ask a couple of students to share with the class.
6) I’ll share a Read Aloud listing three actions students can take to sleep better and ask for more ideas.
6) On their own, complete Part Two of the survey and share.

Teens are physically “wired” to go to sleep later and wake up later (you can watch a short video about that here). As both the book’s authors,and Susan Ohanian, suggest, because of that fact the best solution would be for schools to start later in the morning. Until that happens, though, I think a lesson like this can’t hurt.

I’ll post how the lesson goes. Fell free to leave comments with suggestions on how I can make it better.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Here is what I say to my students:

    We need sleep for two reasons: General health, and improved mental capability. Get enough sleep and you will be happier. Happiness is important to learning. Get enough sleep and you will do better on tests.

    Two reasons we do not get enough sleep. One is we have many things to do. Conflict. We have to use our mature brains to resolve the conflict, and give priority to the need for sleep. Other: If we go to sleep too early we will not fall asleep. Therefore if we go to sleep late on weekends, we will not be able to fall asleep on school nights.

    For more thoughts, see “Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better” on amazon. Stresses focusing on principles.

  2. My after school tutoring students (not proficient) read a very similar article a couple of weeks ago. The reality for our school is that we start at 7:40. Their serotonin levels don’t drop until after first period has begun. They may be sluggish in homeroom, but they are chemically up and running in time for class. Most students get 6-7 hours of sleep despite needing more. We’ve adjusted to the problem by offering our electives primarily during the last two hours of the day.
    Changing our start time would eliminate many students from our school. Parents must get to work on time.

  3. Thanks for sharing the info on Bronson’s Nurture Shock. There is so much valuable information in that book, and it should be a must read for parents and children alike. The ripple effects from lost sleep are huge, and we need to be mindful of these impacts as we make decisions. This relates to school administrators who are planning school start times, teenagers who are up late checking their facebook pages one more time, or young children and their parents who are often extending what Bronson says is the “Slush Hour.” Again, thanks for helping to get the word out.

    Kristen Race

  4. Interesting post!!
    Getting up early is as important as getting enough sleep. It is well documented that early risers do better at all levels. Steve Pavlina wrote an interesting post about how to become an early riser:
    Thank you for sharing!!

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