Is sleep deprivation depriving our students?

I began my professional career with the David Lynch Foundation teaching Transcendental Meditation in an inner-city public middle school in a troubled neighborhood. I knew I would encounter new and unexpected experiences in this stressful environment, but one of the things that shocked me the most was how sleep-deprived students are these days.

I’ll never forget one beautiful yet melancholic middle-schooler (I will call her “Jenna”) who had learned the TM technique. As the eldest in her large family, Jenna was forced to stay up until dawn to attend to her baby sister while her mother worked the graveyard shift. When her mother returned home in the early hours of the morning, it was the only chance Jenna had to spend time with her mother, so she stayed up even later to be with her mom. With the school day starting at 7:30 am, getting a good night’s sleep was impossible for Jenna.

This is one of those unfortunate examples of how children in challenging circumstances can have a particular disadvantage for the demands of school. And yet, incredibly, this is a problem that extends far beyond children with Jenna’s economic challenges to school children from all economic and social demographics.

Research indicates that children today are getting less sleep than they need —as much as 2 hours less than students did a decade ago. Aside from the obvious academic problems that result from inadequate sleep, there are social problems that arise when kids come to school tired and moody. Sleep deprivation in children has been linked to higher rates of aggression, inattention, social deficits and health problems such as high blood pressure.

This phenomenon also extends to college students. According to a 2005 survey of nearly 17,000 college students conducted by the American College Health Association, a mere 13 percent of college students responded that they had been able to get enough sleep to make them feel rested in the morning.

This presents a big problem for education.

Alertness is a key to creativity, achievement and satisfaction in student life, according to the founder of the TM program, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi:

“Alertness is a completely natural thing. The mind is alert when it is fresh, and dull when it is tired. That is natural…. When the mind and body are the most alert in action, then the student is at his peak. He is so alert that he is impenetrable to influences from the outside which could harm him.”

I am so happy that the David Lynch Foundation is making the Transcendental Meditation technique available to young people on a large scale in middle schools and high schools in the US and throughout the world. From my own experience, those two daily sessions of deep silence not only leave one refreshed and more energetic, but also uplifted and transformed.

So for me, to get to work with David’s Foundation and help students achieve this, well it is the highest honor and privilege. Thank you, David.

Stress-free urban schools

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