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Sleep: the key ingredient

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Unlocking Student Success: the Key Ingredient

A new era in education has arrived:  students of all ages are experiencing the effects of ever-increasing academic pressure. More frequent assessment, chasing ‘target’ grades, added competition for university places, and a highly competitive employment market are just a few of the demands placed upon young people.
Students must also shoulder the experience of their wider school life, and the world facing students beyond the school gate or the front door of home. It is a complex world, a difficult world and it is widely documented just how difficult students can find this living experience.
What does the added pressure mean? Quite often the answer is long-term steady disengagement with the education process, reduced performance and outcomes, and deteriorating well-being. As a result, educators are constantly looking for ways to appease these experiences by exploring ‘new’ teaching methods, offering ‘support classes’ or increasing teaching contact time. Perhaps the real solution is something more obvious and presents itself right in front of our own eyes … or behind closed eyes?
Sleep is more important than you think. While we know the all humans need sleep to keep us healthy, happy and functioning at our best, too often we get far too little of it and spend our lives compromising it. Sleep for students is especially important, as in general, they have busy days at school, run around with friends, attending ‘extra’ classes or activities, doing their homework, or keeping up with their social lives. By the end of the day, their body needs a break. Sleep allows children’s bodies to rest up in preparation for tackling the next day. It is also worth understanding that a lack of sleep does not just leave energy stores low, but even one night of poor sleep can trigger a negative hormonal response such as elevating cortisol, the stress hormone. We should perhaps view our bodies like a car; the ‘petrol tank’ is full at the beginning of the day and empty by the end of the day, so refuelling every night is essential for proper development and optimal day-to-day functioning.
A child’s brain needs sleep so that he or she can:
  • remember what he/she learns
  • pay attention and concentrate
  • solve problems and think of new ideas
A child’s body needs sleep so that:
  • his / her muscles, bones and skin can grow and develop
  • his / her muscles, skin and other parts can rejuvenate and heal
  • his / her body can stay healthy and fight sickness

Understanding Sleep Cycles

STAGE 1 & 2    You fall asleep but are not yet in a deep sleep.
STAGE 3    You are in a deep sleep.  Your breathing and heart rate slow down and your body is still.
STAGE 4    Your brain is active and you dream. Your eyes move beneath your eyelids known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This sleep cycle is repeated 5 or 6 times during the night.

How can you promote a ‘sleep optimal’ routine?

  • Ensure that your child goes to bed at the same time every night, this helps his / her body get into a routine.
  • Ensure that your child follows a bedtime routine that is calming, such as taking a warm bath or reading and avoid activities that will stimulate the senses.
  • Limit your child’s intake of foods and drinks that contain caffeine. These include some sodas and other common drinks, like ice tea.
  • Do not allow your child to have a TV in his / her room. Research shows that kids who have one in their rooms sleep less. If you have a TV, turn it off when it’s time to sleep.
  • Don’t allow your kids to watch scary TV shows or movies close to bedtime. For obvious reasons, these types of movies can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Ensure that beds are for sleeping — not for doing homework, reading, playing games, or talking on the phone. That way, they will train their bodies to associate their bed with sleep.
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Andy Dalgleish (andy.dalgleish@oxfordtutors.com) is an experienced teacher of Geography and an accomplished sportsman. 
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