BLOG PAGE: A View from the Bridge
By Mr. Clayton
By Mr. Clayton
Why is sleep so important?
We have all heard the phrases, ‘I need to sleep on it’ or ‘things will look better in the morning.’ It is now becoming clear why these phrases of old have real meaning. Sleep is still being investigated by neuroscience and some of the claims are debateable, but there are some certainties that are known. Obviously our need for sleep varies throughout our lives, but students aged 11-18 should be getting around 11-9 hours’ sleep per night. Sleep has some amazing effects. Researchers have found that while we sleep our bodies:
· Release hormones that regulate growth
· Release hormones that regulate appetite
· Undergo muscle repair
· Restore and heal themselves as the result of a good night’s sleep
· Consolidate memory and learning
It is this final one which is very interesting. Studies in both animal and humans have found that the quality and quantity of sleep have a profound impact on learning and memory. Firstly, a sleep-deprived person cannot focus attention optimally and therefore cannot learn efficiently. Secondly, sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information. It seems that sleep helps the brain to come to terms with newly learnt skills, both physical and mental. Getting adequate sleep the first night after learning a new skill is important for improving memory and performance. The evidence suggests that during sleep, when everything else is relatively quiet because no new input is being received, is when the brain reorganises and tidies information - transferring new information/skills into long-term memory and ditching stuff that’s no longer needed.
Humans are still very tied to the circadian rhythms of life. In other words, the 24 hours of wakefulness and sleepiness are more or less dictated by light. Put simply when it’s light humans are active, when it’s dark we are not! Society and life is now a 24/7 activity. In fact even in the adult world to keep going and not give in, to pull an all ‘nighter’ working or partying can be seen as a badge of honour! So sleep is relegated to something that we have to do, albeit grudgingly! All research shows without question that we are all getting much less sleep on average than we need. This is especially true of adolescents. A lack of quality and quantity of sleep can lead to lots of problems.
· Behaviour- insufficient sleep leads to lower frustration tolerance, which in turn can lead to anger, irritability and aggression.
· Emotions- there is a strong relationship between depression, anxiety and poor sleep.
· Learning and thinking- students who are overly tired cannot learn. Sleep deprived students have difficulty concentrating and show poorer functioning with memory related tasks.
· Physiological effects- insufficient sleep decreases the growth hormone this affects growth and physical development.
Is this a recent problem?
In a sense it has been a problem since the electric light when humans learnt to extent their waking hours. However it has become more acute in the last 10-15 years. This may be due to several factors.
· Parents relaxing strict bed time regimes
· Parents relaxing bed time routines
· Increased demands from social networking sites
· Increased demands from schools
· Access to lots of electrical gadgetry like computers, TVs and telephones in bedrooms
· Well lit rooms
· Evening or night-time ingestion of caffeine heavy drinks, tea, coffee, soft drinks.
Computer use at night?
Computers can hugely affect sleeping patterns. Firstly people sit very close to a computer screen, the light from the computer can make the development of our sleep hormone slow down or push it back. The light can keep a person’s brain stimulated for hours; hence the adolescent can keep alert at the computer until the early hours. Also much of the content of computer games and the like stimulates the brain and makes us more awake. It has even been suggested that playing a computer game before going to bed overly stimulates the brain. When the person finally drops off, the brain is actually sifting and sorting how best to play the game, rather than focusing on work, skills or whatever!
What can be done?
· Try and set up bedrooms designed for sleep with comfortable bedding and temperature. Associate the bedroom with sleeping, not punishment or entertainment rooms.
· Set up sleep time regimes/routines especially during the week that of course with older children may be flexible. Make sure that this reflects the growing need for independence and balance of school and social life.
· Keep away from stimulating materials and events such as computer games, television, loud music, drugs such as nicotine, caffeine and alcohol at least 1 hour and preferably 2 hours before going to bed.
· Sweet dreams!
With the arrival of the Chinese New Year break, we can all re-adjust our sleeping patterns and habits. Do your children sleep long enough? Do you find they sometimes struggle to go to sleep? Why? If so, what do you advise them to do? As parents, we try to set a good example, however, is your sleeping routine a good model?
On this note, I wish you all a happy Chinese New Year break. Be safe, and rest well!