Rest As A Sign Of Respect

Posted on May 25, 2012


In high school I was notorious for falling asleep at my desk. My teachers would force me to stand at my desk (while my classmates sat) in order to stay awake. It was taken as a sign of disrespect that I was falling asleep.

In some ways I was being disrespectful. I was telling the teacher that they were not engaging enough to keep me awake. On the other hand I was a teenager and, as studies are beginning to show, teenagers tend to be night owls more than early risers. High schools, though, in large part refuse to accept such a fact and continue to begin at an early hour despite the findings that:

Teenagers need around eight to ten hours of sleep but get much less during their workweek. A recent study found that when the starting time of high school is delayed by an hour, the percentage of students who get at least eight hours of sleep per night jumps from 35.7 percent to 50 percent. Adolescent students’ attendance rate, their performance, their motivation, even their eating habits all improve significantly if school times are delayed.

Here’s the deal, though. It wasn’t my teacher’s fault, and I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful. Sure, I could have tried to get a better night’s sleep and my teacher could have been more engaging, but I think the real issue is that the environment didn’t make it easy for me to just take a nap if I needed to or sleep in a little bit if necessary.

More and more workplaces recognize that it is more optimal if they allow employees to nap during the work day or come in late to the office. It’s a sign of respect for that individual, basically saying, “we trust you to make good decisions, if you want to take a nap then take a nap, if you want to come in late then come in late”.

It’s important for students to have responsibility over themselves, to have the opportunity to make decisions such as when to go to bed, when to wake up, and when to nap without fear of reprisal. Sure, there are situations when a student should face punishment if they treat this responsibility too casually, but similarly an employee should be criticized if they sleep too long and miss a meeting. It is appropriate to have consequences attached to actions that negatively effect those you are working with.

That doesn’t mean, though, that you need to control sleep habits at all times, needlessly forcing someone to wake up or stay awake who needs more sleep. Giving students more flexibility around sleep is an important sign of respect. Similar to the workplace it sends the message that we trust the students to be responsible for optimizing their schedule so that they get the rest they need to learn effectively.