06 March 2023

The Monday Briefing: Drowse

The Monday Briefing: Drowse

Last week, the blog focused on the first of a series of comment pieces aimed at providing useful advice for the maximisation of preparedness for the exams to come in a few months time.

The first part, Action This Day, looked at the importance of ensuring that motivation for future action was both in place, and consistently positioned at the forefront of the mind of any student. Of course, motivations can change over time, but students must know why they are doing what they do. In settling on one overriding aim - on one clear purpose - students have made the first step. The next needs commitment, diligence, and, above all, discipline. In order to make this happen, maintaining a high level of consciousness is utterly vital.

That can only be done through the integration of an effective sleep regime. It is the key to ensuring that a student gives themselves the best chance of fulfilling their potential.

When seeking guidance in determining the right amount of sleep, it’s easy to look at successful people, identifying them as some kind of example to follow.

While the guidelines for teenagers are to get a minimum of 7-9 hours every evening, there are outliers who simply don’t fit this model:

Elon Musk apparently gets 6, from 1am-7am, and Richard Branson gets 5 or 6, from 12pm-5 or 6am; on the contrary, Albert Einstein famously used to get 10, supplemented by several naps.

Whilst this varying amount of time spent resting leaves it difficult to say who has it right, one very apparent pattern starts to emerge with those who tend to enjoy success. Early risers tend to be far more ready to face the day ahead of them. 

Getting up early isn’t the answer to everything, but it’s the right first move.

Speaking with our students, the vast majority never fail to see the benefits of such an approach. For many, they simply can’t manage to make it happen. It’s far too tempting to stay up and watch the late night film, or send the last few messages to their friends, or play the video game they devote their lives to more than their studies. Many of them, quite naturally so, do not prioritise sleep as an important part of life at their age. They don’t understand that they can’t do it all.

Of course, the resulting lateness for many of our least punctual young adults gets them off completely on the wrong foot, and for many it produces obstacles they simply can not overcome. They spend much of the day in a daze - a drowsy state which in no way prepares the brain for learning. Here is where crucial learning is lost.

Adopting an approach which embeds a routine which promotes an earlier bedtime is essential to make the mind sharp, ready to learn and prepared to remember:

-Reading a book rather than looking at one’s phone just before bed - in fact the phone should be in another room, switched off. This gets rid of the main distraction.

-Keeping a notepad by the side of the bed, and noting 3 things you are grateful for each day, or 3 things you want to do the next. This provides an outlet for lessening the burden on the mind.

-Keeping a room cool, quiet and dark, as opposed to listening to music just before bed. Again, this makes the mind far too active to settle before the required period of sleep.

-Setting an alarm to go to bed as well as one to get up is a good move. A disciplined approach from the start to the end of the night gives this period of relaxation the respect it deserves.

-Avoid the snooze button. Pressing it just makes one more drowsy, and, along with it, more disappointed in oneself - one will have failed the first challenge of the day - getting out of bed.

-Cut caffeine by lunchtime. It pains me when I see students quaffing energy drinks with their lunch. These products take a long, long time to wear off.

-Get some exercise, and, with it, fresh air, earlier in the day to tire you out when the night hits. Regular, vigorous exercisers get the best sleep. It doesn’t need to be high impact - even a 45 minute walk every day will make a huge difference - it’s another of Einstein’s techniques.

-Wear socks in bed. It makes one far more comfortable when trying to get to sleep, and far less reluctant to get out of bed in the morning. Though Einstein himself never wore socks.

-Keep the schedule, even on weekends. Staying up and then sleeping in later destroys much of the good work done during the week. Such ‘social jet lag’ also makes getting to sleep on a Sunday night more stressful.

-Let the light in first thing. When you get up, draw the curtains within 15 minutes. Otherwise, the temptation to lie in the comfortably shady bed will trick your brain into thinking it’s not time to start the day.

Of course, for some, finding the right routine is not readily found - but one must be aware that an inability to do so puts incredible strain not just on the brain, but on the rest of the body. An effective analogy, as pointed out by Dustin Nabhan, Vice President of Health & Performance at Canyon Ranch, a world-renowned leader in wellness:

‘Picture a three-legged stool. Each leg symbolises one of the most important things your body needs to stay healthy. One leg is good nutrition—eating whole foods, in reasonable portion sizes; the second represents physical activity—getting in some moderate-to-vigorous exercise on most days of the week. The third leg? Quality sleep, and enough of it. When we don’t get good rest, we’re more likely to become ill, gain weight and feel depressed, and our cognitive skills, including memory and reasoning, can suffer. In the worst cases, sleep deprivation can raise our risk for two major threats: type 2 diabetes and heart disease.’

Such a state of affairs is portrayed even more effectively in the diagram below:





















On the contrary, when one prioritises sleep, and gets enough of it, the optimisation of alertness, productivity and efficiency can be incredibly profound:

-Sleep is the essential downtime that grey matter needs to consolidate memories, process emotions, and simply recharge to focus clearly the next day.

-Not only do you need a full night’s sleep to be focused and productive, you also need to be rested and recharged to be creative at school.

-A 2013 study at the University of Surrey found that chronic sleep deprivation (defined as less than six hours of sleep every night for just one week) affects the functioning of about three percent of genes, which may not sound like much, but it’s hundreds of genes, including some that influence inflammation, immunity, and how we responses to stress.

-Poor sleep makes the perception of pain worse, and pain—not surprisingly—often interferes with sleep.

-When you’re well-rested, you’re less on edge, which makes it easier to manage tough feelings like anger and sadness when they arise.

The sooner a routine can be embedded the better - and scientific research makes the case for such an approach difficult to contest. A study carried out for the Science of Learning entitled ‘Sleep quality, duration, and consistency are associated with better academic performance in college students’ in 2019 makes a compelling argument. In this study, wearable activity trackers were distributed to 100 students in an introductory college chemistry class (88 of whom completed the study), allowing for multiple sleep measures to be correlated with in-class performance on quizzes and midterm examinations. Overall, better quality, longer duration, and greater consistency of sleep correlated with better grades. However, there was no relation between sleep measures on the single night before a test and test performance; instead, sleep duration and quality for the month and the week before a test correlated with better grades. Sleep measures accounted for nearly 25% of the variance in academic performance.

For many students, this can be the difference between getting the grades they have strived for throughout their time at secondary school, and missing out on them.

It is a case of investing in oneself.

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