5 Things You Need to Know About Sleep

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.

 

How to make wellbeing work for you - Part 1

Regardless of what your individual aims are for school, if you want to be able say that you’ve given it your best then you need to take steps to look after your wellbeing. As mentioned in our previous blog, our health and social connections ultimately impact our ability to learn and perform. Looking after yourself isn’t as simple as doing what you like because it feels good. From our years of experience here are 3 tips to get you started. 

 

1. Get the basics right first 

Did you know that fish oil has been shown to have cognitive benefits for learning and is legitimately a brain food, as the urban myth would suggest? While this is true, dosing up on tuna isn’t going to do anything for you unless you’ve got everything else going on. It’s sort of like wearing an aerodynamic jumpsuit for casual exercise (looking at you cyclists). Sure, that technology probably does shave a few milliseconds off a professional athletes time, but does it help you whip around the northern beaches on your bike any quicker? Probably not. 

Before you start investing time and effort into any of these so called body hacks, make sure you are doing the following: 

  • Sleep – We are talking 8 hours or more of quality with consistent wake up and bed down times. 

  • Maintaining/making social connections – Friends, family and colleagues. If you don’t know how your friends are doing you need to find out. 

  • Exercising – There isn’t enough space here to write about all the benefits of regular exercise. Find what exercise works for you, it’s not always going to be easy but it shouldn’t be a complete drag. 

  • Eat well – Give your body and brain the fuel it needs to perform how you want.  

All this stuff is good in theory, but if it were easy or convenient then everyone would already be on top of it. So how do we give ourselves the best chance of making it work? 

 

2. Structure and Routine 

As boring as it is, if you want to make this work then you need to plan, practice and learn. You wouldn’t go into an exam without a strategy and this is no different. Simply relying on will power or good intentions leaves us at the mercy of our mood to make the best decisions, which as humans we are not always going to do. If you set up a routine and commit to it by writing it down you are giving yourself a better chance of succeeding at your goal and returning to it when you fall off the rails. In future articles, we will drill down into the nitty gritty of how we can get a better nights sleep, convince ourselves to exercise regularly and engage in other elements of wellbeing. 

 

3. There is no quick fix 

Taking steps to improve our wellbeing isn’t something we do because we are feeling low; it’s something we commit to everyday to help us face the hard times when they come, and to stack the odds in our favour to bounce back better than ever. That’s not to say that a hard run won’t make you feel better after a tough day, but if you truly want to give yourself the best chance of achieving your goals in school and beyond then taking daily steps to address your wellbeing will need to become second nature. When good wellbeing practices become habits then we can truly reach our potential and also start eating all the fish oil we want! 

 

Keep your eyes peeled for more tips for wellbeing and academic success in the coming weeks! 

 

Want to get the most out of your HSC? Here’s why you need to put your wellbeing first!

As a tutor, youth worker and mentor I’ve guided countless students through the HSC. Regardless of what you want to get out of school if you neglect your wellbeing then you are selling yourself short socially, emotionally and academically. Yes that’s right, not looking after yourself will ultimately cost you marks. The research is in and there is a clear association between student wellbeing and improved academic performance (Gilman & Huebner, 2006).

To help you get the most out of school here are 5 reasons to take care of yourself in the HSC:

1. Risk of mental health problems increase dramatically in year 11 & 12

The HSC is hard. Duh. But lets look at what that actually means. Between 40-50% of year 11-12 students experience clinical levels of psychological distress, dramatically exceeding the normal levels (Einstein, Lovibond and Gaston 2000) and puts students at risk of psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol dependence and sleep disorders. If risk factors are increasing then it’s only logical that you need to step up your protective factors and look after yourself (check back next week for some practical tips on this).

2. Your health will always catch up with you

There’s an old saying; ‘Find humility before humility finds you.’ The same applies for good health habits. You have a choice to practice them now but later down the track you won’t. Learning self care during times of stress and change (such as the HSC) won’t just help you get the most out of year 11-12, it will set you up to get the most out of life. Sure you may get away with pulling all nighters, eating garbage and isolating yourself to study in high school, but if it doesn’t catch you at uni then it will during work and the longer you wait to address your health, the worse the consequences.

3. Bad health = bad marks

Elevated stress is linked to decreased academic performance and low self esteem (Smith 2000). Enough said.

4. Marks don’t predict happiness or success

If you’re sinking all your eggs into the good mark basket you might want to look away now. The main predictor of wellbeing is good relationships. This includes friends, partners, family and the community (Chanfreau, Lloyd, Bryon, 2008). So if good relationships = good wellbeing and good wellbeing is correlated with academic success… I’ll let you smart HSC students draw your own conclusions here.

5. It’s a hell of a time to be alive

As cliché as it is you are only young once, early adulthood is a critical period to form relationships (did I mention these are what make you happy), take risks and learn. It’s OK to fail and make mistakes in high school, in fact it is essential and it is exactly the time you should be making them, when you have a safety net around you and your whole life ahead of you.

Self care and a focus on wellbeing alone won’t get you through the HSC but you aren’t going to have a good experience if you neglect it. All things in life require balance, and year 11-12 is a fantastic time to start figuring out what works for you and a focus on your wellbeing is the best starting point you can have.

 

About the author: Cal is a director at Think Tuition and works in a wellbeing role in the public education system.

References
Chanfreau J, Lloyd Ch, Byron Ch, Roberts C, Craig R, De Feo D et al (2008) Predicting well-being. NatCen Social Research, London.
Einstein, DA, Lovibond, PF and Gaston, JE 2000, ‘Relationship between perfectionism and emotional symptoms in an adolescent sample’, Australian Journal of Psychology, vol. 52, pp. 89–93.
Gilman, R., & Huebner, E. S. (2006). Characteristics of adolescents who report very high life satisfaction. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 311–319.
Smith, L and Sinclair, KE 2000, ‘Stress and learning in the Higher School Certificate’, Change: Transformations in Education, vol. 3, pp. 67–79.