Going to Bed

Girl Wearing Pajamas Watching TV in her Room

I wrote an article recently about why I don’t believe schools should be bending to the demands of those who suggest that Secondary School start times should be made later, to accommodate the tiredness of pupils. One of my main reasons was my belief that any academic gains or benefits would be only temporary, until the students simply adjusted to a new normal, their bed times shifted later and they would now be operating according to an even later sleep cycle (hence back to sleep deprived when getting up to go to school).

So, I was very interested to see the following article that outlines the findings of a paper and research on sleep procrastination – the process of delaying going to bed (and hence going to sleep), however tired one might be or however stressful one’s day might have been.

British Psychological Society Digest – Why Some People Find it Harder to Drag Themselves to Bed at Night
(Click on the link above to read the article in a separate tab or window)

The first finding that was striking was that for the worst of the sleep procrastinators, they could easily be delaying going to bed by a very significant 40 – 50 minutes each night. I have some reservations that, like so much psychological research, the test subjects were college and school-going students, but nevertheless the findings are interesting and point to a need for further research.

The key conclusion of the research was that people’s perceptions of themselves in relation to willpower played a significant part in determining whether or not they had sleep procrastination tendencies. Participants were categorised as either having a limited theory of willpower (believing it’s a finite resource that, once used up is gone until you can sleep or take other action to replenish it) or non-limited ( you can have as much willpower as you like available to you at any time, subject only to your level of self-control to draw on it.)

The conclusion was that the latter group are far less likely to procrastinate sleeping and going to bed than the former group. However, no causal link was established, so they’re still very much at the level of conjecture as to why this happens. More research is clearly needed, because greater understanding of why will offer scope to learn/ teach the skills necessary to address the issue.

At this point, i need to come clean and enter the confessional. I have had, for many years, a tendency to procrastinate sleep and going to bed. The severity of it varies over time, but i’ve never been quite sure what makes it worse. Ironically, it can, at times, seem to become worse when i put  more focus and attention on it, become frustrated or try to engineer strategies to get better. In my case, all too often, it’s about productivity. I can remember times in the past, years ago, when it might be occasions of mindlessly watching TV, continually telling myself that it’s time to switch off and go to bed, but failing to actually do it (and thinking less and less of myself for my failure to act). These day,s I watch very little TV and it’s much more commonly about an urge to get just a few more things done from whatever ‘to do’ list I had set myself for the day/ week etc. This seems to coincide with a rush of newfound energy, even though there is a voice in the back of my head reminding me that I had committed to myself to go to bed earlier (and that whatever task I’m engaged on can perfectly well be picked up on in the morning). Worse, and even more irrationally, I’ve often realised the next day that if I’d held the task over and got my rest, I probably would have done it quicker and to a much better standard.

To me, it’s further evidence that changing school start times is only likely to deliver short term benefits, that are quickly lost as the students adjust to new norms. We need alternative strategies, backed by scientific understanding about why it’s happening (not just who it’s happening to), that enable us and young people to take control of the situation and do what is in their/ our own long term best interest.

Active Kids Are Healthier Kids


Today’s parents grew up before the arrival of the smart phone or tablet. As a result, those who stop to think about it struggle to figure out what’s right to do. Especially with very young children it’s phenomenally tempting to let the device take the place of a child minder. Small children, once they have such a device in their hands, prove to be remarkably speedy learners. They can find their way around, delete things, download apps and open what interests them most. And they become so terribly passive, ‘well-behaved’ and docile, giving parents no trouble or disturbance while they surf the latest riveting posts and make themselves ever more anxious that their dull, messy lives cannot match up to the amazing, beautiful lives of their dear friends on Insta and Facebook.

If you ask many whether what they’re doing is OK, they might show a momentary hesitation – but it’s all so tempting. Little Johnnie hasn’t given any trouble for the last hour. And the last time Mama tried to take the tablet away from him the screaming fit in the middle of the supermarket was just so embarrassing.  So, better to let him carry on. he must be OK.

But, there is a small nagging doubt in the back of Mama’s mind, ever since she read news stories about how high placed people in the Silicon Valley tech companies don’t allow their children to use mobile devices. They ought to know what’s for the best? But, little Johnnie’s so much better behaved like this, and Mama has a headache worrying about the fact that she seems to be the only one of her friends who hasn’t yet Konmari’d her home. She used to invite friends round for coffee, but now it would just be too humiliating.

Today, Mama’s really not sure she has any gratitude for the wise people at the World Health Organisation (WHO) who have carried out an extensive review of the scientific evidence to issue guidance which was published last week. Their recommendations address the appropriate amounts of sleep, exercise and screen time for babies and infants under 5. They had issued guidance for older age ranges earlier dealing particularly with physical activity (5 to 17, 18-64 and 65 and over).

World Health Organisation Guidelines – Diet and Physical Activity

Mama hasn’t forgotten the trouble that happened when it was discovered that her older son’s friend was feasting on copious amounts of screen time at her house, after his parents had specifically told her that they had made a rule to limit him to one hour per day. “Surely, that was cruelty to deny the child something he liked so much,” she rationalised. In her heart she knew her real reason was that she saw no way of introducing and maintaining such a rule for her own child, and she does like to be the popular Aunty! Such a minefield dealing with other kids’ parents!

These new WHO guidelines deal with needs for exercise, sleep and (passive) screen time for three age categories; under 1, one to two and three to four. Their focus regarding screen time seems to have been more on the physical effects of inactivity more than effect on eyes or mental and psychological impacts of excessive screen time. More screen time equals more sedentary time, means major contribution to growing levels of childhood obesity.

CNN – Health – Exercise, Sleep and Screen Time Recommendations For Under 5’s

The information contained here is vitally important for care givers as well as those in a position to educate and guide parents, especially professionals working in early years environments. However, it should also lead many in early years and playgroup situations to assess their own practices as well. It’s important to note the stress placed on free and active play as the primary route for learning for children in this age range. Educators who become hellbent on an academic head start for these children with weighty syllabus and limited play would do well to review the implications of these recommendations. If parents are a long way from the scenario in these guidelines, at least the educators shouldn’t be making things worse!

Finally, here’s an article from The Atlantic that acknowledges some of the challenges in moving towards these guidelines. If anything, this is an acknowledgement that in many environments, especially prosperous Western cities, the children are already a very long way away from what’s being recommended. There’s a long road ahead and time will show the full implications for children growing up with shortages of quality sleep, active physical play and an excess of passive screen time.

The Atlantic – How Should Parents Interpret Screen-Time Recommendations?

Yet More Evidence on Sleep

It really does seem that sleep is a very hot topic for experimentation lately, and as a result we’re coming to know more and more that is critical from which we must learn lessons.

The latest I came across was this research that had some startling news that I really need to take note of:

Fast Company – Why Six Hours Of Sleep Is As Bad As None At All

What the article told me, very convincingly, is that when I’m consistently getting 6 – 6 1/2 hours in bed a night and think I’m experiencing no negative effects, I’m deluding myself. There is a cumulative effect and it’s very significant one. Over the years I’ve always wanted to believe I could squeeze a bit more out of each day – soe extra time for reading, email, blog writing (!) or other tasks, with the result that I’d have to ‘chase myself to bed’!

After reading this article there’s some serious habit changing work ahead, starting right now! I promise in a while I’ll share how I’m getting on and what benefits I see. Incidentally, after reading this, I’m even clearer in my mind that we should be teaching our children about this stuff and helping them to understand why it matters.

Taking Sleep Seriously

The weight of evidence is so strong that we really have to kill off all the macho, heroic myths around sleep deprivation. I remember that, years ago, there was much talk about how Margaret Thatcher only needed four hours of sleep each night when she was Prime Minister of Great Britain. I’ve also seen similar claims related to Tony Blair.

In my student days, it was almost seen as a badge of honour when you put yourself in the situation to ‘pull an all-nighter’ to get n assignment completed and handed in with minutes to spare the next morning.

Now I’m older, and hopefully a bit wiser, i can see that it was a basic equation between prioritising time for what was necessary/ important or what was fun, immediate and wanted. I don’t think I can really remember a single occasion when a night spent working and getting no sleep wasn’t the result of bad judgement and lack of self-control/ regulation rather than genuine volume of responsibilities and necessity.

I’ve been writing for some time about how sleep deprivation is exacting a toll on students and limiting their learning potential. here’s a very well written and presented article from McKinsey & Co that looks at another perspective – the organisational costs of insufficient sleep, especially when leaders are making decisions without getting enough shut-eye;

McKinsey – The organisational Cost of Insufficient Sleep

The article sets out a very strong case that the implications are so great that this must really matter to organisations. Rather than perpetuating cultures where people are recognised and rewarded for appearing to make personal sacrifices by going without sleep, organisations need to see that they potentially pay a heavy price when people are operating in less than effective states. In other words, they have to educate their workforce and help them to develop positive and healthy habits. Two days ago, i wrote about the Netflix culture. Interestingly, that was very clear that there should be n rewards or recognition for people according to how long they spend on the job or how much time they put in to work. Recognition should link purely to outcomes and the link to time should be de-emphasised.

I think it’s often quite hard to change such habits in adulthood. As a result, the right habits need to be established from an early age. This means;

a) Developing good routines and patterns around sleep and bed time for very young children,
b) Not treating staying up late as a special treat (too many do it with junk food as well).
c) We should teach our children about the basics of the science related to sleep, so that they understand why it’s important (not just tell them to do what we say),
d) We need to set good examples to our children about getting a healthy amount of sleep, including things like switching off devices an hour before bed. When we are at a less than optimal level of effectiveness due to lack of sleep, we should acknowledge this to our children.

In the past, we really didn’t know just how harmful these sleep issues could be. Ignorance is no longer an excuse, so we must change our ways.

Practical Steps on Sleep Issues

I’ve written extensively about the hidden menace for children and young learners (and adults) regarding inadequate sleep, poor quality sleep and the perils of failing to have appropriate disciplines and strategies regarding sleep.

The evidence available today is so great that ignorance cannot be an excuse for creating situations where some children are significantly impaired in their learning abilities and scope to benefit fully from school.

It’s been interesting in recent months to see so many commentators, first in the US and then in UK, responding to the data that suggests that young people (particularly teenagers) are sleep deprived and suffering. Their response has been somewhat shocking to me – start the school day later! Quite frankly, this seems to be the wrong solution to the issue. I fear that all that will happen is – the start of the day shifts, so they’ll simply go to bed later still, spending more night time on social networking and other unproductive (but somewhat compulsive and dependency forming) habits.

This article from The Guardian offers, I believe, a far more reasonable response – educate children early about the role and importance of sleep, get them to introspect on the effects for them personally and then support and help them to form the right, positive habits to ensure healthy sleep patterns. This is a significant area where home and school can really leverage strong partnership for the good of the pupils:

The Guardian – Wake Up Call

Confession Time

It’s time for me to own up, to come clean. I’m doing this because I have a bad habit – one that is in my control, that I can do something about, but that my failure to address has been a cause of frustration and annoyance with myself. So, by coming clean publicly, I hope and intend to do something about it, to put some momentum behind my efforts. I’m also expecting that my confession might also flush out a few others who are guilty also, to a lesser or greater extent. Then, together, we can put this issue right.

I don’t get enough sleep!

Now, on the scale of confessions that might not sound so bad. You might be forgiven for thinking there are plenty of people with far worse ‘bad habits’. However, this bugs me in a very big way. For one, as an educator and a parent I believe I have a duty to set a good example – and i’m not doing that. Secondly, my profession and my personal study in the areas of psychology etc. give me ample access to information about all the downsides of what i’m doing. And worse, every day I know and am aware of the price I’m paying personally for this habit.

If you want to get the scale of how bad sleep deprivation is, then this article from Huffington Post sets out succinctly the overall position of current knowledge on the subject:

Huffington Post – 8 Scary Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation

I think the word scary is absolutely right for the points highlighted. And, after all – if I’m not as svelte as I once was, the evidence is there plain to see for me every day. Now, please don’t think this is about mere vanity (though there might be a bit of that!). The truth is that the extra weight I’ve carried over the last few years is not just an aesthetic problem (or even a ‘getting clothes to fit and look good’ issue). Rather, it represents evidence of increased risk from a number of health factors. And, what’s more, it’s so far been very stubborn in its resistance to exercise and attempts to control my diet. I actually believe that if I can address the sleep issue, then the exercise and diet control will have the desired effect. Then, not only will my vanity get a boost, but I can also improve my overall health, make my time more productive and set a better example.

So, I’m a man on a mission. Care to join me, all those who get tempted to just get ‘a bit more done’ each day, resulting in too little sleep?

Sleep Not Optional

Here’s an article I loved, that endorsed my belief that we massively underestimate the extent to which sleep deprivation is limiting the ability of our children in school:

Washington Post article

Getting Serious About Sleep

I’ve written a few times before about sleep and the potential risks we’re taking with our children’s learning in and out of school if we neglect their sleep, or fail to achieve effective sleep patterns and habits for/ with them:
December Article
March Article
June Article

Well, I just found a new article today that really puts it all in to perspective. It especially highlights and shows up just how foolish and naive are (and always were) those habits of ‘burning the midnight oil’ before tests and exams. Now, the big danger here is that I did it when i was a student, most of the parents reading this did it when they were students – but, the plain fact is we just didn’t know any better.

When confronted with serious and genuine research evidence of this nature it would be criminal if we failed to do everything in our power to get the message across to our children that this is one area in which we most certainly do not wish them to follow our example.

Would any of us willingly put ourselves through 48 hours with no sleep before an activity that was going to require our mental faculties to be working at their very best? However, as this article clearly indicates, that is what many of our children are doing regularly.

I also continue to believe that this evidence on adult mental faculty and moods gives every indication that we need to look at children’s sleep seriously in all cases where there are behavioural issues or challenges.

It was also disturbing to see the links in the scientific evidence between sleep deprivation and weight gain (and even diabetes risks).

Newsweek Article on Sleep Deprivation
(Click on link above to access the article)

More Proof on Sleeping

Here’s yet more evidence of the terrible risk we are taking with our children (and at times with ourselves) if we’re not establishing really good, effective, sensible and consistently applied habits on sleeping.

NPR Article on Sleep Research
(Just click on the link above to open the article)

What’s particularly interesting about this article is the finding of physical benefits for those engaged in sports, as well as the mental/ cognitive benefits. They’re not exactly sure why, but I think it’s even got me convinced to start going to bed earlier!

The Importance of Sleep

Here’s an interesting story from the BBC about a school in Scotland that is ‘teaching’ sleeping – I couldn’t agree more with this.

Informally, I carry out my own research when talking to students in our school and quite frankly get horrified at how little sleep they are getting on school days.

What scares me even more is when i see write-ups suggesting strong correlations between sleep deprivation and diagnoses of ADHD. Many of the children diagnosed are put on to powerful drugs such as Ritolin.

I fear that one day we will have no choice but to acknowledge how the potential of these children was blighted by a simple lack of creating positive healthy routines in their lives around the issue of sleep.

But, then it will be too late to do anything about it.

BBC Article on Sleep

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