Fascinating Sleep Functions



Would you like to know one of the easiest ways to ease kids’ minds, boost kids’ moods and improve their grades?  I bet most of us would, but would you believe it if I said all of these are greatly helped by sleeping longer?  Would you be willing to make a priority of trying to increase nightly shut eye by one hour for one month to see what happens?

        Whether scientists ask “A”, “B”, “C” & “D” students how long they sleep and analyze the trends, or whether they create a study randomly assigning groups to go to bed either 1/2 an hour earlier or later and then track their grades, the conclusion remains the same — higher grades go hand in hand with more sleep.  Different studies, done in different cities, by different researchers, with different approaches, show strikingly similar results — 15 minutes might make a letter grade’s difference.
        Here’s one of many reasons: All of the information that pours into our brains throughout the day is not written directly into longterm memory.  It’s temporarily jotted down on not-so-sticky, sticky notes.  During sleep, that info is then sorted and stored more permanently.  Not enough sleep means not all of the information is saved.
        One of the connections sleep has to depression and anxiety also stems from memory storage.  Positive and negative memories are saved differently.  Negative memories are moved right in, to a vivid, readily accessible area of the brain; (I believe the current theory is that this way the knowledge of how to handle an imminent danger stays with us and at our fingertips while the danger is still lurking near — even if the danger keeps us awake).  On the contrary, positive memories are not filed away until we sleep; (at that point some of the negative memories may be transferred or discarded).  Constant — even if slight — sleep deprivation creates a nasty loop wherein more and more anxiety inducing memories build up and remain in the forefront of our minds, while fewer and fewer positive memories are stored to be recallable at all.  Thus it feels like there is much more pain than pleasure in the world regardless of the true ratio.
        When sleep finally comes, stress hormones from the day’s hardships are cleared out of our body cells, and toxic buildup (figurative & literal) is cleared out of our brain cells.  Resetting our system with the capacity to endure another day.
        To our sleep dependent, biological, to-do list of memory filing & culling, chemical spill clean-up & spring cleaning, add growth, certain aspects of immune function, weight regulation & healing, and a myriad other processes not yet all understood, and it’s a wonder we don’t need 18 hours of sleep a night.
        Although there is variation from person to person pre-schoolers up to high-schoolers need from 12 down to 9 hours of sleep per night — not as an average.  It is more likely that they get only 5-9 hours — with more of that gotten on the weekends.
        With so much to be gained by decreasing lost sleep, let’s make lights out a hard & fast rule rather than a suggestion by giving screens, displays and electronics of all ages a curfew.
“Scientists theorize that sleep problems during formative years can cause permanent changes in a child’s brain structure — damage that one can’t sleep off like a hangover.”  ~ Bronson & Merryman
For more interesting information watch this TED Talk on sleep –  Russell Foster: Why do we sleep?

Coming soon!

Two 9th grade Health classes at WA will be piloting a “Sleep Log Challenge” to record and analyze student sleep data – discovering how sleep quantity affects health quality.

Try it for yourself!

Try to increase your daily sleep by half an hour for the next ten days and feel the difference!