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You're Feeling Very Sleepy
© Dr Kathie Nunley

With all the research cropping up lately about sleep, educators, parents, and school boards are becoming increasingly concerned about students' sleep habits. The latest research is showing that sleep not only is a time for cells and general body tissues to heal, refresh, and repair, it is also the time when our brain maintenance is in full swing. Sleep is the time when nerve cells branch in our brains, hardwiring in the day's learning. Children who are sleep deprived after learning new information are unable to process and use that information as well as children who are not sleep deprived.(1)

So just how much sleep is enough sleep? While individual bodies vary, there are some general rules of thumb for sleep. We've heard for years that we need 8 hours of sleep at night, but the truth is that the length varies widely and the amount tends to decrease with age.

Young children need tremendous amounts of sleep not only because they are growing, but because their brains require a great deal of maintenance time. So how much is enough? What you really should be doing is going to bed at night and sleeping until your body says, "OK, we're done here, wake up." Unfortunately most of us override the body's own system with such things as alarm clocks, thereby depriving ourselves of a properly maintained brain.

The average adult, 33- 45 years of age needs 7 hours of sleep a night. This means, that if you need to wake at 6 am, you should be sleeping by 11:00 PM. That doesn't seem to be an impossible task for most adults. But let's look at school-aged brains.

The average high schooler needs 8.5 hours of sleep. A middle schooler, 10 hours. Children in elementary grades first through fourth should be getting 10.5 and preschoolers, 11 hours of sleep.(2)

Anyone overriding their brain's own maintenance department is losing out on the opportunity to develop their brains and their intellect to its full capacity. Because most middle and high-schooler's bodies are running on an "owl" day rhythm, meaning their bodies have a tendency to stay up late at night and sleep later in the day, it makes it nearly impossible for them to go to bed early enough at night to get all the sleep they need and still wake in time for school.  After all, how many middle schoolers do you know who can go to sleep at 8:30 at night in order to be rested for a 6:00 am wake up time?

How many of America's students are sleep deprived? Ask yourself, at your school, what percentage of students have been woken up this morning by artificial means, i.e.: alarm clocks, parents, siblings? That's the percentage of students in your school who are not getting the rest they need. A bit frightening I think.

*Binks, et.al, Sleep, 1999(May), V. 22(3), 328-334.
*Wolfson, A. 1998. Child Development, Vol 69(4) 875-887.
*Blunden, S., et.al, 2000. Journal of Clinical & Experimental
Neuropsychology, Vol 22(5) 554-568.
* Stickgold, R., et. al. 2000. Nature Neuroscience, Vol 3(12) 1237-1238

(2) Huffman (1994). Psychology, 3rd Ed. John Wiley &
Sons, Inc.


About the Author:
Dr Kathie Nunley is an educational psychologist, researcher and author of several books on parenting and teaching, including A Student's Brain (Brains.org) and the best selling, "Differentiating the High School Classroom" (Corwin Press). She is the developer of the Layered Curriculum® method of instruction and has worked with parents and educators around the world to better structure schools to make brain-friendly environments. In addition, her work has been used by the Boeing Corporation, Family Circle Magazine, the Washington Post, and ABC television.
Email her: Kathie (at) brains.org


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