Helping students to get better sleep

Sleep is important for everyone. But as your students navigate a time of rapid mental, physical, social and emotional development, it’s even more crucial that they get good-quality sleep in order to fuel their brains and bodies.

By understanding why sleep is important for students, being aware of what can cause sleep issues, and picking up on signs that they might be struggling to get enough sleep, you’ll be in a better position to put strategies in place to help them improve their sleep.

Why is sleep important for students?

For students, good-quality sleep helps to promote:

  • analytical and creative thinking

  • attention, memory and motivation

  • mental health and emotional wellbeing

  • physical health and development

  • decision making and reduced risk taking.

How much sleep do students need?

The amount of sleep students need can vary from person to person. Some students may need more than the recommended number of hours, while others may need less. The Sleep Health Foundation recommends the following:

  • School-aged children (6–13 years) need 9–11 hours of sleep a night.

  • Teenagers (14–17 years) need 8–10 hours of sleep a night.

  • Young adults (18–25) need 7–9 hours of sleep a night.

The problem is that most teens aren’t getting these recommended hours. Many manage to get only between 6.5 and 7.5 hours sleep a night. And this sleep deficit can have a huge impact across their lives, including on their experiences at school.

Why aren’t students getting enough sleep?

There are many factors that contribute to sleep issues in students, particularly in teens. These include everyday things such as:

In another recent ReachOut report, we found that disrupted sleep was frequently reported by young people facing many of the above challenges. Other common factors that contribute to sleep issues include:

  • excessive screen time and use of devices, particularly around bedtime

  • changes to their natural body clock, making them want to sleep later or contributing to problems with falling asleep when they want to

  • mental health issues such as anxiety and depression

  • sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnoea, delayed sleep phase syndrome, restless leg syndrome, parasomnias and narcolepsy

  • neurodiverse disorders such as ADHD and autism spectrum disorder

  • poor sleep hygiene (e.g. irregular sleep schedule or lack of a bedtime routine)

  • use of stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, which all impact sleep quality.

Signs that your students might be struggling with sleep

Whether it’s as clear as day (your students are falling asleep in class) or more subtle (they’re displaying rapid changes in mood), there are many signs that might indicate that your students aren’t getting the sleep they need. These include:

  • frequent yawning or nodding off in class

  • difficulties with concentrating, paying attention and staying motivated

  • increased irritability, moodiness or stress

  • frequent lateness to school, or school refusal

  • decline in academic performance

  • complaints of headaches, stomach aches or other physical issues

  • excessive daytime sleepiness.

Strategies for helping your students to sleep better

Whether it’s teaching students about the importance of sleep, helping them to manage their time better, or raising awareness of sleep issues in your school community, here are strategies you can use:

  • Teach interactive lesson plans about various aspects of sleep, such as its impact on mental health and wellbeing, how students can improve their sleep hygiene, or the effect of blue light on melatonin production.

  • Teach students about sleep-related topics such as organisation and time management, releasing stress, exam stress management, mindfulness, taming social media use and physical and mental fitness.

  • Promote homework policies that prioritise quality over quantity, and encourage open communication between teachers, students and parents about homework expectations.

  • Coordinate with other teachers to ensure that students aren’t overwhelmed with homework and assignments (especially during peak exam periods).

  • Regularly monitor your students’ wellbeing to identify those who might be struggling with sleep issues. Learn more about your students with Student Snapshot.

  • Encourage students to seek support from school counsellors or other relevant professionals if they’re facing significant stress or mental health challenges.

  • Invite sleep experts or professionals to speak to your students about sleep.

  • Put on sleep seminars and workshops for students, parents and carers.

  • Promote sleep awareness through newsletters, posters, social media and the school website.

  • Discuss students’ sleep habits and challenges with their parents and carers.

ReachOut resources you can share

For parents and carers

Parents and carers can play a key role in helping their teenagers to improve their sleep. Whether it’s educating them on the benefits of sleep, setting technology limits together, or working on building good sleep hygiene, here are some resources you can share:

For students

Empower your students by providing them with information and strategies for improving their sleep. From engaging videos and ‘how to’ guides, to personal stories and factsheets, here are some resources you can share with them:

What can I do now?

  • Start teaching your students about sleep with this ReachOut Schools lesson.

  • If you’re looking to talk to students about their sleep challenges, get tips on having quality conversations.