A recent blog of mine focused on the Nobel Prize award in Physiology or Medicine 2017 to Hall, Rosbash, and Young “for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.” I thought I’d take the opportunity to drill down a bit into what stands in our way of a good night’s sleep.
Sleep experts note that the modern world exacerbates the natural tendencies of our circadian rhythms. The frantic pace of tech, social media, new cycles, school schedules…you get it. We’ve all had the conversation dozens of time. Nonetheless, when we want to address some of the chaos by caring for our minds and bodies with better sleep, there are a few guiding principles that can help. The National Sleep Foundation offers great best practices for healthy sleep, which include sticking to a schedule, practicing a bedtime ritual, avoiding naps, daily exercise, and designing your sleep space. To those well-researched and sage notes, I would add the following remarks, with teens—and their screens—especially in mind:
Do computer-based homework earlier and non-computer later. The light from laptops and iPhones stimulates the brain, disrupting the sleep-inducing effect of naturally occurring melatonin. Set a target time to turn screens off for the day. If you absolutely must be on the computer late, consider downloading software like F.lux, which adjusts your computers light settings based on the time of day to protect your eyes and help you rest.
Toward the same end, charge phones outside of the bedroom. Phones are so hard to resist, for all of us. Especially when you are tired, you lack will power so you look at your phone, which keeps you awake and makes you tired, which makes you lack willpower, so you look at your phone…My colleague calls this an infinite regression. I call it an infinite pain in the neck.
Buy an alarm clock. Every time I suggest to a student the prospect of charging the phone in the kitchen, I hear “but I use it as my alarm clock.” There is a simple solution here. I cannot speak for all parents, but I’d hazard a guess that if you can con your parent into a $500+ cell phone (not to mentions tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for your education), I reckon you all can scrape together $10 for an alarm clock. In addition to helping kick screens out of the bedroom, it can serve as part of a broader wind-down regiment.
Plan for Sleep
Your schedule is the budget of your time. It indicates what you value as important, and drives your choices. You schedule time for sports, driving lessons, social get-togethers, etc. Schedule time for your sleep. For my part, I have a calendar repeat of “Bedtime 10:15” every night, ad infinitum. That calendar reminder doesn’t guarantee I am asleep or in bed at 10:15. But it’s a nudge. We are all much more likely to work to a goal or deadline that we have than one that doesn’t exist.
Ask for Help
Lastly, if you are the parent of a zombie, model good sleep patterns yourself and (if you suspect a sleep disorder for your child or yourself) consult with your doctor or other professional. As rest is the basis of all activity, you and your child will be more successful in most everything with a rested and healthy body and brain, for which there is no substitute for sleep.