Have you checked out MindShift, KQED’s blog on the future of education and learning? As an educator and a parent, I highly recommend it. One recent article has particularly made an impression on me, especially with its controversial—at least to teachers!—title: “Why Sleeping May Be More Important Than Studying.”
Author Katrina Schwartz sites a study published in the journal Child Development in which researchers tracked more than 500 Los Angeles high school students over the course of a two-week period. UCLA psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences professor Andrew Fuligni, one of the researchers involved in the study, explains, “As other studies have found, our results indicated that extra time spent studying cuts into adolescents’ sleep on a daily basis, and it is this reduced sleep that accounts for the increase in academic problems that occurs after days of increased studying. Although these nights of extra studying may seem necessary, they can come at a cost.”
I guess that’s not shocking—we can all remember the effect of pulling all nighters in high school or college or beyond (parents of infants, anyone?). But with the increased demands on our young people—academic, social, athletic, extracurricular, etc.—these sleep-deprived evenings are becoming more and more common and can have an effect on the body. We all need REM sleep to solidify all that has happened during the day. “If you didn’t get a good night’s sleep,” explains Dr. Matt Carter, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Washington, “it’s really hard to learn new things because you didn’t clear out all the synaptic connections.” Imagine all that children and teens are experiencing and learning in one day: they may need sleep more than anyone!
It’s a difficult problem to solve. Do you start school later? Do you restrict the number of activities a student can participate in? Do you eliminate homework?
We have thought about this a lot at MA. Some of the things we’ve done include eliminating final exams (in favor of end-of-year projects), studying the homework and activities of our student body, and encouraging balance in academic and extracurricular schedules. We have built in times during the day like tutorial and break so that students have more time to do their work and to ask questions. We have maintained longer breaks during the winter and spring for students (and teachers) to rest and rejuvenate.
Could we be doing more? That’s a good question. I’m excited that we will welcome Dr. Michelle Primeau to campus on February 19. Dr. Primeau is a psychiatrist and specialist from the Stanford Sleep Center. She will speak with students during the morning Wellness Assembly and parents during an evening MAPA Parent Ed presentation. I look forward to learning more about how we can support our students—and get a better night’s sleep!