Latest Reading: Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep

I read this book with great interest due to sleep’s impact on student learning. Working with high school students, I see the struggle they have with their sleep patterns. Teenagers’s body rhythms are not the same as adults and I see the effect every morning as many of them walk into school blurry-eyed. Adolescents need nine hours of sleep to be fully restored and many of them do not get it due to busy schedules, electronics, and a biological clock that is three hours behind adults. What 10:00 PM is to an adult, 1:00 AM is to a teenager, so they tend to go to bed much later, but are forced to get up the same time as fully mature adults. Going to bed at 10:00 PM for many is a biological impossibility.  The book quotes an University of Kentucky study that showed the average high school student gets only 6 and 1/2 hours a sleep per night. I often hear from students and teachers that the “prime time” for our students to study is between 10:00 PM – 1:00 AM. It makes sense to start high schools later than elementary and middle schools, and I would not start anytime before 9:00 AM. The research shows adolescents show less depression and better moods and learning with a later start. A study in Minnesota school district showed students SAT scores jumped 300 points with a later school starting time. I also thought it would be a great idea to have “napping rooms” in high schools. The research indicates that 20 minute-naps are best, so allowing a student 30-minutes of quiet time during the day would certainly aid their learning by “helping the brain better assess and make connections between objects.”

The author David Randall did a lot of research and interviewed a lot of people to write the book. It is quite comprehensive and I also took a personal interest in sleep due to my insomnia. The author suffers from sleep walking and so like him, I also learned a lot from the book about sleep to see if it could help me. The book gives a lot of suggestions for better sleep, including devices that measure the quality of REM sleep and allow one of consciously improve the quality of sleep.

Some of the points I would like to stress are as follows:

  • In getting children to sleep, routine is paramount. Getting the kids in a relaxing set routine like turning out the lights around the house, a warm bath or book reading at a consistent time every evening, will lead to better behaved and more focused kids at school.
  •  We need sleep to organize our experiences and learning during the day. It puts new ideas and experiences into our current schema and revises the schema based on new evidence. It helps consolidate new learning.
  • Sleep is still a very strange and little understood phenomenon. I can see why the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos was the twin brother of the god of death, Thanatos, and the son of the goddess of the night, Nyx. 
  • There were some very interesting biological points brought up in the book. For example, with the advent of electric light, human’s sleep cycles were altered. Pre-artificial light, people went to sleep earlier and defined “two sleeps” one in which they wake up around midnight for an hour and then go back to bed. Randall refers to an interesting study from the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland that deprived patients of artificial light.
  • For international schools, jet-lag can be a problem, especially at the start of terms or recruiting season for administrators. Stanford University researchers looked at NFL games which showed west coast teams dominated east coast teams, winning 71% of the time when playing on the west coast. “Shifting three times zones was the kiss of death” for football teams. I guess the same can be said for schools.

There is much more in the book and I highly recommend it to school administrators. It is causing me to look critically at our time table and help our adolescents feel and perform their best.