Sleep is tough to come by, especially for students who are spending time cramming for exams, readying themselves for quizzes, or finishing term papers. Unfortunately, when we look at our schedules, sleep is often the first thing we cut out. As this article will discuss, that is a mistake, and the short-term gains that might be had in sleeping less are generally outweighed by the long-term effects of sleep deprivation.
Why Can’t I Sleep?
More than one high school student has stared at the ceiling asking themselves this question. “I’ve been working all day…my body tells me I’m exhausted…why can’t I fall asleep?” There are many complex answers to this question but it mainly has to do with stress and excitement.
When our minds get worked up, whether it’s from a stressful day in class, winning a soccer game, or watching an exciting movie, they often have a tough time turning off. Switching gears immediately from excitement to sleep is not something that most people are able to do.
Keeping that in mind, the demands of school often have students running at full throttle right up until bedtime. Without buffering in time to decompress and relax, it’s unrealistic to think that students will be able to power down like robots.
What Happens When You Don’t?
Although “switching gears” into sleep mode might not be easy given the demands of school today, it is vitally important that students learn how to and make a habit of buffering in this time.
Countless studies on sleep have been done over many decades that have produced endless pages of research. To summarize this large body of scholarly research: too little sleep is a very bad thing. Among some of the more major negative effects are:
- Trouble with learning and retention
- Trouble forming new memories
- Impaired general cognition
- Lack of coordination (some studies liken this to being intoxicated above the legal limit)
- Irritability and depression
- Increased anxiety
These are troubling symptoms for anyone, but especially for students who are working so hard to get ahead. Ironically, the lack of sleep is working against them, despite their best efforts to cram everything into one day.
How to Get Better Sleep
Knowing that the stakes are high, the question then must become: how can we enable our children and students to sleep better and sleep more? While there is no magic bullet, there are things that parents and teachers can do to help:
- Encourage children to form good sleeping habits (Click here to read about how habits are formed)
- No screens 1 hour before bed
- Built-in reading time
- Dim lights
- Ensure that students’ coursework is aligned and they aren’t overloaded
- Set a standard routine for dinner so that food isn’t consumed too late at night
- Practice mindfulness and/or meditation to help with relaxation
Being thoughtful about how to create a schedule that better enables good sleep is the first step in actually achieving it. Students, parents, and teachers all must be on the same page about the importance of good sleep.