Imagine there was a supplement that was 100% proven to give you more energy, better health, improved judgment, faster reflexes, sharper memory, superior cognitive functioning, elevated emotions, and enhanced social connections. Imagine the life you could enjoy with all those benefits. Ask yourself how much you would be willing to pay each month for a therapeutic dose of just such a supplement. Now... what would you say if I told you that there is just such a supplement... and it doesn't cost a cent to obtain?
That's right: Sleep!
Sleep is a gift that everyone has available to them, and it is absolutely free. The cost, if you will, is only a change in one's attitude and habits. Habits are hard to change, I know, but I can assure you that the habit of ourselves of sufficient sleep is well worth changing.
I recently challenged my students to contribute at least one idea that a student could employ in an effort to get more sleep. I then compiled the results and created a toolkit to help students not only get more sleep, but also track the sleep that they do get (see PDF attached at the bottom of this article). I then challenged my students to experiment with implementing a number of these strategies every day until they settle upon a mix of strategies that allows them to regularly get at least eight hours of sleep a night. I promised them that they would find an incredible change in how they feel after just three consecutive nights of sufficient sleep.
The Economics of Sleep
A number of students will often argue, "I don't have time for eight hours of sleep! How would I possibly get all my work done?" My counter argument is based on the issue of economic efficiency.
In economics, efficiency is defined as the ratio of output per unit of input. We only have so many hours in a day. Therefore, the more we can accomplish with each hour available to us, the more efficient we will be. Getting more sleep, I argue, is an economically sound investment not only in health and wellness, but in productivity. If a student is regularly sleep deprived, then they cannot possibly be as focused or productive as they would have been had they been well rested. This lack of sleep sets into motion a positive feedback loop (aka a "vicious circle") wherein a student is less productive, so they get less work done, so they stay up later doing work, so they get less sleep, so they are more tired, so they are even less productive the next day... and on the cycle goes. In making sleep a priority, we turn this feedback loop around on itself: getting more sleep, becoming more efficient, getting more work done during our waking hours, thereby gaining more time to sleep, and thereby becoming even more efficient the next day.
The Sleep Mindset
I have outlined below a comprehensive list of strategies that one can employ in order to restructure their lives toward a more sleep-oriented mindset. The strategies are all good, but they are all, in essence, established on the same foundational attitude: a perspective that views sleep as a truly valuable aspect of our lives - one deserving of our time, attention, and aspiration.
We cannot afford to view sleep as simply the absence of doing anything else.
We cannot afford to view sleep as simply the absence of doing anything else. Otherwise, we will not grant ourselves the privilege of our much-needed sleep until we have done absolutely everything else we can possibly think of doing within a given day. Making reference to another economic theory, I would argue that people tend to pursue a non-optimal mix of activities in their day-to-day lives - overproducing less necessary activities, while underproducing valuable sleep. I believe people tend to overstate the importance of the tasks with which they are actively engaged. This is essentially because of emotional inertia: people want to keep doing whatever it is they are currently doing. If that happens to be organizing their sock drawer, then, in an effort to reduce cognitive dissonance and rationalize their behaviour, they will tend to overstate the importance of having organized socks. Meanwhile, sleep gets put on the back burner and is underproduced. Thus, the individual never really achieves their socially optimal - or shall we say - personally optimal mix of outputs.
Our Top Ten List of Sleep Strategies
We all know the importance of sleep, and we all know that we don't get enough. It's making the transition towards a sleep-oriented mindset that is the sticking point. What changes can people actually make to their day-to-day lives that will dispose them toward getting more sleep? Below you will find ten practical ideas that you can start using today in order to get the sleep you need. You don't need to try them all, but give a few ideas a go each day. When you settle on a mix of strategies that works for you, then keep it going! After all, doctors and sleep researchers tell us that establishing a regular sleep and waking routine is probably the single best thing we can do to assure ourselves of getting sufficient, quality sleep.
Challenge yourself and your students to make sleep a top priority in your lives, and see the difference it makes. Feel free to download, share, print off, or hand out the "Getting Better Sleep" sleep kit linked below... and let me know how your quest for better sleep goes!
The New Learner Lab
Exploring the ever-changing, often challenging, and always controversial world of teaching.