Imagine there was a safe and legal pill that could raise test scores, enhance your looks, make you faster, stronger, and more explosive, decrease the risk of illness and disease, and lengthen life span...Would you take it? While this might sound like a journal prompt or an ethics discussion, it’s really not that complicated. We already have access to this “pill.” Intrigued? Read on.
Amidst all of the uncertainties of a new school year, two things are certain. First, many students will exhibit a level of grogginess and grumpiness that is the bane of parents and first block teachers alike. Second, there will be an outbreak of illness (and resulting absences) a few weeks into the school year. The combined effect of these two certainties is a negative impact on learning and performance.
What’s the common denominator? A shortage of sleep.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” is the theme of numerous songs and memes that devalue sleep, but the reality is that not sleeping enough will make death more imminent. Getting less than eight hours of sleep per night increases the risk of stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease. Athletes who average less than eight hours of sleep per night are nearly twice as likely to get injured. Pulling the oft-boasted-about all-nighter makes you function as if you were legally drunk. (Click on the maroon links to read the articles).
Sleep is not an optional luxury; it is essential. While scientists once believed that the brain and body shut down during sleep, we now know that it is during sleep that we learn, grow, and recover. Consider the following:
During Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, our brains consolidate the information we learned during the day. This timeframe is critical for reorganizing information, pattern recognition, and creative thinking. There’s a reason people say, “I’ll sleep on it,” when considering a major decision. The brain creates new connections between bits of information, often providing the solution to a thorny question when we awake in the morning. The length of each REM sleep phase increases over the course of the night, with the longest phase occurring shortly before awakening. The only way to increase the amount of REM sleep is to go to sleep earlier in the evening.
During slow wave sleep (stages 3-4), the body recovers and grows. The respiratory rate slows and muscles relax. Human growth hormone (HGH) is released, facilitating muscle repair and tissue growth. The immune system fights bacterial and viral infection and reduces systemic inflammation. So sleep aids the recovery from intense workouts, helps prevent illness, and shortens the recovery period when we do get sick.
Getting more sleep doesn’t just prevent problems, it enhances performance. After getting an extra two hours of sleep, the Stanford University men’s basketball team shot the ball 9% better and ran faster. College students at Baylor who slept for at least eight hours made better grades on their finals. Baseball players who added sleep improved their cognitive processing (decision-making) by 13%. Tennis players improved their serving accuracy by 6%, and commercial airline pilots improved their reaction time.
Las Vegas is a 24 hour town that simply doesn’t value sleep. Indeed, more than one business model is predicated upon keeping customers awake. Teenagers tend not to value sleeping at optimal times. Add in the use of cell phones and other electronic devices, and you have a culture and context that discourages our kids from getting a good night’s sleep.
So what can we do to help kids (and parents!) sleep better? Here are some proven tips - no pills required:
- Avoid stimulants (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol) at least four hours before bedtime. Also limit the consumption of food and water prior to bedtime so you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night.
- Have a relaxing bedtime routine. Light yoga, meditation, prayer, or reading are all good activities prior to bed.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This is where many people go astray. Consistency is the key in priming the body to sleep, and sleeping late does not make up for staying up late.
- Dim the lights and turn off electronic devices as bedtime approaches. Use a bedside lamp instead of the overhead light. Blue light from screens inhibits the release of melatonin, which is key to sleep quality and quantity.
- Make your room cool (62°-68°), dark, and quiet. A cool room speeds sleep onset and increases REM sleep. The room should be so dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
- Get 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Adolescents in particular, need more sleep than adults because both their brains and bodies and growing at a rapid rate.
Taking this “pill” will not only help your students perform better, it will boost their mood and health, as well. Instead of “You snooze, you lose,” you can help them Sleep To Win.
Mr. Mark Cheney teaches Chemistry, Performance and Sport Psychology, and is the Director of Mental Performance at Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School in Las Vegas Nevada. Learn more at https://www.coachmarkcheney.com/
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