16 October 2017

Student Wellbeing: Anatomy of Sleep

Sleep - in the context of not letting bedroom computers rob you of it - was looked at last issue, and we're reminded of just how important sleep is when we start looking at how it works. Instead of saying 'have a good day' we might then change it to it 'have a good sleep' because a good sleep tonight is one of the most essential components of a good day tomorrow.

As Clinical Psychologist Andrew Fuller puts it, 'not getting enough sleep really makes it hard to have a great day. If you sleep less than six hours, it is like having 0.5 blood alcohol.'

One week of restricted sleep does the same damage as being awake for 24 consecutive hours. It even affects weight and ageing processes by upsetting the regulation of blood sugar; nearly two out of three people who sleep less than five hours a night are obese.

When a sleeper's body is in shut down with its temperature at its lowest, typically around 3am, the brain remains 80% activated, consolidating memories through dream-sleep, restocking proteins, repairing damaged cells and brain connections. Then at the other end of the 24 hour cycle, attention peaks somewhere between 2.5 and 4 hours after waking, the optimum time for soaking up information you really need to learn.

At the end of the day, rather than trying to use your conscious mind to run with a problem, handballing it to the subconscious often works wonders. Telling someone to 'sleep on it' doesn't mean 'forget about it', quite the contrary. With more time and less stress, the sleeping mind is hard-wired to unravel intractable issues. John Steinbeck called it 'the committee of sleep' that was expert at resolving last evening's dilemmas.

So young men and boys can safely leave it to this committee to sort things out for them during the night. They can also learn to understand what phases of the wake-sleep cycle offer them best use of their waking time. But all this is academic without the discipline of making time for the sleep they need, the good night that's essential for a good day.

Shauna Lipscombe

Senior School Psychologist