This is why students fall asleep during class

Students at Erasmus University never fall asleep during class, of course. Why would you? But students around the world do and this is why.

Shriram Krishnamurthi, Professor of Computer Science at Brown University, has compiled this list:

This is Why

'I admit: I'm annoyed when a student falls asleep. I let myself be annoyed for a moment, because it's natural. Then I recover my composure, look beyond that moment, and think about the causes, of which there may be many.'

1. The class is boring

Any professor who doesn't consider this shouldn't be in the job. Fortunately, this one is usually easy to dismiss if all the other students are awake, and there are enough of them.

2. The student is narcoleptic

It happens. Sometimes they'll tell you. Other times they won't. You're teaching right after lunch. Human biology is a powerful force; combat it and you usually lose. I therefore only teach before lunch.

3. Because the class has required attendance

None of mine ever do. I don't grade on attendance or class participation; I'd have to be horribly insecure to do that. My view is that if my teaching can't draw students to my class, the problem is with me, not with them.

4. It’s too early in the morning

The definition of 'too early' varies. Lately I've been getting complaints from upper-class students (for non-US people, this means students in later years of their degree—not a statement about their parental lineage) that my 10am class is too early.

But the most interesting possibility is that I'm putting them to sleep through something other than my classroom interaction.

My first few years, I'd have students turn in homework at the beginning of class. And they would. And several of them would subsequently struggle to stay awake (with some failing). You see what's going on, right? I didn't at first, but then I realised that if you make homework due at the start of an 11am class, some of them will stay up until all hours (including 11am) to get it done.

Then I moved my homeworks to be due at 2am, which struck me as an eminently respectable time to get into bed. I actually thought I was doing students a favour by indulging in their desire to be up late, yet taking away a reason to be up later than that. And that went on for a while until someone pointed out that it was rude to professors who taught 8am classes. And it is; we just don't have any in my department, so I didn't think about it.

So I moved it further back. Of course, midnight is at once both a natural and terrible choice: terrible because of confusion over which day things are due. So I made things due at 11:59pm instead. And that has resulted in far fewer students snoozing through class.

So why does the odd student still fall asleep? Because they're students. I do my best to give the class 'the chat' about the importance of getting sleep, how caffeine-fuelled streaks only give the impression of productivity, and so on. I know they're ignoring me. I would have done just that at their age. I smile about it. It's called growing up.

So what do our professors here at Erasmus University Rotterdam think?

'Better to stay home'

'Personally, I think a student better stay home if he or she can't stay awake. I'm always more understanding in the first few weeks, because I know students won't have had much sleep because of the “ontgroeningsweek”' (fresher's week).

Michaéla C. Schippers, Professor of Behaviour and Performance Management
Department of Technology & Operations Management, Rotterdam School of Management

'No one falls asleep in my class'

'No one falls asleep in my class :-). Seriously, sometimes you see students in class who are clearly exhausted (partying all night is hard work, eh?) or utterly bored. It’s a problem when that happens because, even if they don’t cause disruption or talk, they suck lots energy and enthusiasm out of everybody. This is something I never understood… When lecture attendance is not mandatory, why would you attend a lecture when you’d rather be in bed or anywhere else, really?

By the way, the prevalence of this behaviour correlates strongly with the age of the students. The more mature the students, the less likely is this to happen. There are several viable explanations for this correlation with age, including differences in intrinsic motivation, size of the class/vicinity to the teacher, self-selection, and so on. Better stop or I’ll be turning this into an academic treatise…'

Stefano Puntoni, Professor of Marketing, Department of Marketing Management, RSM - Rotterdam School of Management


Text Manon Sikkel Daelmans/Quora

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