Two new studies - one on the impact of sleep deprivation and another on ways to help teens get to sleep - have come to our attention and raise interesting issues. We have long believed that students who have good "sleep hygiene", who get sufficient, good quality sleep, are better prepared to deal with the challenges of school and to make the cognitive connections necessary for learning.
A report in the January, 2010 issue of Sleep of a study of 23 adults who were deprived of sleep for a total of 51 hours, after which they had two nights of recovery sleep, showed serious degradation in the sleep deprived subject's ability to do certain tasks that are associated with executive function. However, there were other tasks that were not impacted by the sleep deprivation. This small study raises more questions than it answers, but it hints at an uneven impact of sleep deprivation on important parts of the managerial functions of individuals.
second study, reported by the Associated Press and appearing in Long Island's Newsday, describes a study based in a Chapel Hill, North Carolina middle school designed with numerous skylights so as to reduce the need for electric lights while providing a light filled environment. When researchers had some eighth graders wear goggles that limited their access to certain waves of light, they saw a delay in the onset time of a hormonal surge of melatonin that helps with sleep. The student subjects were only deprived of the specific light waves for five days, but researchers noted that students who leave for school before dawn, especially in winter, and who spend much of their days in windowless classrooms, can have their ability to fall asleep in a timely manner negatively impacted. This study, too, was a small one and can only be useful as a basis for further research.
Still, we need to be open to looking at a number of variables that impact sleep, particularly in young people, and we need to search further to better understand how the sleep process -- or lack of sleep -- impacts the day to day functioning of students in their classrooms and at home.
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