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!

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