Up late marking? Up early preparing for the day ahead? Did you know that after an average of four hours of sleep a night for four or five days, you will develop the same level of cognitive impairment as if you had been awake for 24 hours. This is the same level of impairment as having a blood alcohol level high enough to be considered legally drunk. Not only does this greatly lengthen reaction time, impede judgment, and interfere with problem solving, I think you will all agree, that it is no state to be teaching or learning in.
So how important is sleep? Well, in his fascinating TED talk circadian neuroscientist Russell Foster discusses exactly why we need to sleep and talks about some of the concerning effects sleep deprivation can have.
While we may feel we are getting enough sleep, as a society we are not prioritizing time for rest like we have in the past.
In the 1950s good data suggests that most of us were getting around about eight hours of sleep a night. Nowadays we sleep one and a half to two hours less every night. So we’re in the sort of six and a half hours every night league. For teenagers it’s worse. Much worse. They need nine hours for full brain performance and many of them, on a school night, are only getting five hours of sleep. It’s simply not enough.
Not only is sleep deprivation a risk to our overall health it can also take an enormous toll on our professional, academic and family life.
Our ability to come up with novel solutions to complex problems is hugely enhanced by a night of sleep. In fact it’s been estimated to give us a threefold advantage.
When you’re tired and you lack sleep, you have poor memory, you have poor creativity, you have increased impulsiveness and you have overall poor judgment.
A lot of people claim to function fully on just a few hours of sleep a night, but there are many signs that this is not the case. And you may be surprised just how many are all too familiar.
How do I know whether I’m getting enough sleep? Well it’s not rocket science. If you need an alarm clock to get you out of bed in the morning. If you are taking a long time to get up. If you need lots of stimulants. If you’re grumpy. If you’re irritable. If you’re told by your work colleagues that you’re looking tired and irritable, chances are, you are sleep-deprived.
Ensuring you get the right amount of sleep can make huge difference to your life.
This isn’t some sort of crystal waving nonsense. This is a pragmatic response to good health. If you have good sleep it increases your concentration, attention, decision-making, creativity, social skills, health. If you get sleep it reduces your mood changes, your stress, your levels of anger, your impulsivity and your tendency to drink and take drugs.
So what can you do?
- Make your bedroom a haven for sleep (dark, quiet and slightly cool)
- Reduce light exposure before bed
- Turn off phones, tablets and computers
- Restrict caffeine before bed (preferably no caffeine after lunch)
- Seek out morning light
For more ways to ensure you are getting quality rest, take a look at these tips for getting a good night’s sleep.
Links and Next Steps
- Why Do We Sleep? – The full TED talk from Russell Foster
- The importance of sleep – Accompanying lesson plan
- How Much Sleep Do You Actually Need? – Video (3 min)
- Should I keep my smartphone and tablet out of my bedroom?
- A Better Night’s Rest – Sleeping position infographic
- Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer – Harvard Business Review
- How to Sleep Better – Tips for getting a good night’s sleep