When addressing a student’s wellbeing and academic needs (in that order), the first question I always ask is, ‘how much sleep are you getting and is it quality?’ Trying to do your best at school on a poor night’s sleep is like rocking up to run a marathon and then shooting yourself in the foot before you start. If you want to get the most out of school here are 5 things you need to know about sleep.
1. Sleep is crucial to learning and memory
Sleep occupies nearly a third of our lives but often we take it for granted. When you are hitting the books, all the information you take in is temporarily stored as short-term memory. If you want to recall this at a later date, then it needs to be converted into your long-term memory and this only happens during deep sleep. If you are cramming late into the night you will hit a point where it will be more beneficial to go to sleep than to keep studying; new learning isn’t doing you any favours if you can’t recall it come test time.
2. Your mates all nighter is the exception not the rule
Nah, I don’t need to worry about my sleep, my mate Kevin pulls all nighters all the time and he does great. This is something I hear all the time and there are two things that need to be noted on this. The first is that this is a classic example of confirmation bias, where we only acknowledge the information that supports our viewpoint. The second is that, although this may have worked once or even twice, it doesn’t represent any efficient or practical way to do things. Sure, maybe you leave things until the last minute one time and get away with it, but if this becomes a habit then sooner or later it is going to catch up.
When we recall information after an all nighter, its likely still only stored as a short-term memory. The impact of sleep deprivation means that the chance of you being able to recall the content later is drastically reduced, so next time you need it you will have to learn it all again. This definitely isn’t an efficient use of your time.
3. Good sleep patterns don’t happen by accident
When first trying to implement good sleep habits I hear a lot of complaints about not being able to sleep or the impossibility of being able to get up on time. Our body learns the habits we teach it, so if you are used to going to bed really late then it is going to take a while to change that.
Like in a lot of other wellbeing factors, structure and routine are they key to a good nights sleep. Every time you hit snooze on your alarm you are teaching your body not to respond to it and ultimately making it harder on yourself each day. The first time that you get straight out of your bed for an alarm will be the hardest, the second day will be easier, and so on after that. If you can start the habit on that first day then it is all down hill from there. If you need to improve your sleep habits, make a plan and commit. The first place to start is consistent bed and wake up times, then break it down into smaller steps from there. What time will you stop using technology? How will you stop technology interrupting your sleep? What will you do if you can’t sleep? Etc.
4. It’s an individual thing
The general consensus is that adolescents need between 8-10 hours sleep a night to function at their best, but this varies from person to person. Some people will need (a lot) more and others less: get to know your body and what works for you. Getting the balance right is going to take some trial and error, but if you take the time to observe how you are feeling in relation to your sleep patterns, then you can make the best decisions for yourself.
5. There is no substitute
We have all heard some pretty crazy theories on how you can hack the system and get away with sleeping less without it impacting performance. To consolidate knowledge and strengthen the neural networks that allow us to retrieve information, we need to go into the two phases of deep sleep: slow wave and rapid eye movement. However, the only way to get there is time. A lot of other important stuff happens during sleep as well such as regulating vital processes like our immune system, respiration and growth.
No matter what you want to do, a (regular) good nights sleep is a great way to start. If you’d like more information or advice on how you can improve your sleeping habits and performance contact us today.