The Frost Stops the Rice Grows
April 25–29, Amherst, MA USA
Seasonal Memoir #71
→ To get a good night’s sleep, pour a strong cup of coffee, and meditate on a rainy day–that’s all that’s required to figure out all of life’s mysteries, or at least its priorities.
→ To look at a 300 year old tree and think about all that it has seen. Then, to think about a nearly 5,000 year old tree.
→ To connect with someone on a shared thought or feeling, without ever having said a word, but knowing it through your eyes and a smile.
→ To get a jolt of energy after being caught unawares by a piece of music.
→ To look in a dog’s eyes, staring back at you, and seeing only love.
What do you tell students ahead of their exams? Not the truth, of course, that exams are a racist, sexist, sorting tool to perpetuate privileges within the elite caste. Nevertheless, I shared this message to parents ahead of the high-stakes Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams:
It is always an uplifting moment for staff when your children return to school after a holiday. Though there are a lot of bleary eyes from the rudeness of the alarm clock ringing on a Monday morning (zombie-mode ensues), we nevertheless cherish re-establishing the connection we have with our students.
As we enter into exams, I can’t help but think about the importance of sleep. When I talk about sleep with your children, I can feel the eye-rolling of many, who are thinking, “I’d love to sleep, but there is no time!” I do know, however, that there are students who make adequate sleep a priority and somehow find a way to get it into their daily routines.
Because of my personal interest in well-being, I’ve been reading about sleep for years, including this gem of a book by British scientist Matthew Walker. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- Sleep is ridiculously important to humans (as an animal). If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t devote on average 8 hours a night to it, especially as it requires us to be in a vulnerable catatonic state.
- Sleep gives us benefits at the cellular level, and can ward off all sorts of illnesses.
- Our brain is very active when we are asleep. It’s sorting out what happened to us that day, deciding what to put in short-term memory, what to put in long-term memory, and what to forget (most of it).
- Short-sleepers (those who need only 5 hours a night) are rare (like 10% of the population), so be wary of your child saying “I don’t need sleep”.
- Sleep debt is a thing. When you chronically under-sleep, you build up this debt, carrying it around, which means that you cannot sacrifice sleep all week and expect to resolve it by sleeping in on the weekends.
- Teenagers need more sleep than they did as younger children, or as they’ll need when adults. It’s hormonal.
Our challenge, as parents and teachers, is to convince our children and students to make a commitment to getting adequate sleep before exams. Here is a basic case we can make:
- You’ve worked hard all year to do well in school and do well on your exams. So let’s talk about how to put you in the best position to ace your exams.
- You will have a choice the night before an exam to study a little more, or, get an extra hour or two of sleep.
- Please choose the latter. Why? It’s simple. Your brain needs sleep to take what you know and make it accessible to you the next day. If your brain doesn’t get enough sleep, you will be unable to remember what you’ve already learned. You’ll be unable to think and problem solve to your best capability. You’ll have brain fog from the fatigue. What a shame that will be!
- I know it’s counterintuitive to say “study a bit less, and sleep instead”, but try it out. Trust those adults around you who have learned this lesson before you.
- And one more thing, on test nights, place your phone far away from your pillow, and turn on airplane mode. You can’t afford to have bluelight or notifications disrupting your sleep.
- Finally, here’s a routine you might find helpful.