Dickens, in common with many people of his time, thought that he would be able to sleep better if his bed pointed in the right direction.
Even when he was staying in a hotel, he would move his bed to align it north/south so that it matched the geomagnetic alignment of the earth’s magnetic field. We have long abandoned that view, but still search for solutions to sleep. So many of our pupils report sleep issues many are in deficit because they just don’t sleep enough during the working week.
As you will probably know, adolescent males face challenges with their sleep. Most of them need more than 8 ½ hours per night, some need nearer 10. Also, the male sleep rhythm - the circadian rhythm - gets out of sync in teenage years. Their brains want to go to sleep later and later at night, and wake correspondingly much later in the morning. It is interesting that the effects of sleep deprivation are similar to being drunk. Being an hour short on sleep each night for a week results in the same effects as a large glass of wine. Response times are measurably increased, memory is affected, judgement is impaired and we become over confident, sure that we are just fine and competent as ever - but it isn’t true! This is hardly perfect for learning and is even worse in the exam season!
What can we do? Here’s my list of top tips for getting more sleep:
1. No screens in the bedroom
2. Good, heavy curtains so that the room is genuinely dark all year round at bedtime, but pull back the curtains in the morning to let the sun reset the circadian rhythm
3. A cool bedroom
4. Go to bed at the same time every night
5. Don’t drink coffee or other stimulants after 2pm
6. Have a relaxing bedtime ritual that gets the mind in the mood for sleep
7. If you want to sleep well through the night,then don't nap in the daytime - especially,don't nap at tea time after school.Power napping helps you to cope during the day,but it hinders getting to sleep later at night.Power napping works for some of us,but there is a trade off against the effect on night time sleep.
8. Exercise well
9. Eat lightly in the evening
10. Finally - as a parent - set a good example. Do YOU sleep enough?
If you can’t sleep - the standard advice is to get up, keep the light level low (red light rather than white light is good) and go to another room to read or sit quietly until you feel sleepy, then go back to bed and try again. Dickens however had another solution. He notoriously had periods of poor sleep; he would get up in the night and go for a walk. Unlike moving the bed, this really is effective. Gentle exercise at night helps us sleep. Also, less predictably, going out in the cool night air helps too. Cooling the front part of the brain appears to improve sleep, but also the body naturally cools a little when we go to sleep. In fact a reliable indicator of when a person is about to drop off at night is that body temperature drops - less than a degree, but enough to measure. It appears that, going out into the cool and allowing the body to feel the coolness may trick the brain into going to sleep.
Bizarrely, of all the hints and tips I have given to boys and colleagues regarding sleep, the one reported to be most consistently effective is to go and stand just outside the house for 5 minutes until feeling chilly; then go straight back to bed.
If you would like to read more about good sleep habits, “sleep hygiene”, managing sleep problems, etc, try the National Sleep Foundation website (https://sleepfoundation.org).
Sleep well ......
Martin Hewitt (School Well-Being Coach)