The thing about sleep

<<This post was originally posted in March 2022, but for some reason it  disappeared from my blog>>

In a few weeks time I will be completing a series of lessons with my Year 8 pupils where we take a look at some of the things that can act as barriers to our learning.   Amongst other things I look at attitude towards school, energy drinks, location of working, amounts of time spent online/gaming  and sleep.  Often, this look at sleep patterns amongst very young teens can provide a fascinating insight into some of the anxieties that young people have in relation to sleep.


I am always amazed when I ask my Year 8s how many of them have issues with sleeping.   There are always a lot of hands that go up and I usually start feeling very aware that some of them might need a lot more professional help in this area.   Yet – this is something that we rarely talk about, acknowledge or take any action on.  When I ask the students to describe their sleep routines – I am often appalled by what they tell me.  These 11/12 year olds tell me things like:

  • many are not going to bed until 12/1pm in the morning (and then getting up again about 7 – 7.30 – maybe getting 7 hours sleep a night)
  • many are spending a lot of hours online gaming or ‘on their phones’
  • many struggle with sleep and claim to only sleep with TV/ Netflix on in the background
  • many have screens beside the bed and often are awakened by messages and notifications through the night
  • many like to have text messages from friends in the middle of the night and will wake up to reply
  • many find it difficult to get to sleep because of the amount of ‘energy drinks’ that they are consuming through the day.


So, there can be no doubt that for a variety of different reasons (from diet, caffeine intake from energy drinks and dependence on a variety of screens for entertainment) that young people are finding it difficult to get themselves to sleep properly. In particular we note that:

  • Pupils are not going to bed early enough
  • Pupils are not getting enough ‘quality’ sleep

The NHS online web site notes that children aged 6 to 12 need 9 to 12 hours of sleep per night and Teenagers (aged 13 to 18) need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night.

  • Pupils are having too much screen time that is interfering with sleep
  • Pupils are keeping their phone notifications on through the night
  • Pupils are using energy drinks to fill the energy gap they have due to a lack of sleep
  • Pupils do not have an appropriate routine for going to bed and setting their brains up for ‘sleep mode’


To try and inform myself further about I decided to read the book by Matthew Walker – why we sleep. I was pleased to find out that a lot of what I already suspected and though about sleep was actually backed up by the science. This helped me to streamline some of the advice and guidance that I give to young people about how they can maybe improve how they ‘do’ sleep.


I used to hate being away from home as I always found that I could not sleep properly. I hated having different pillows (and when I can, I will bring my papillons with me), I did not like different lights, different types of mattress, different amounts of ambient light etc. Sleep came slowly. But, I then decided that to fix this I should try and replicate the same routine that I used at home. Every night I go through exactly the same steps, in the same order so that my body knows that it is time to start to wind down and be ready for sleep.

  1. It all starts with getting a glass of water downstairs and checking all the doors are locked and the alarm on
  2. Climb the stairs and then get changed for bed and go to the bathroom etc
  3. Put the phone in the charger and make sure the alarm is set for the next morning
  4. Start to read something. Usually, I only get a few pages in before my eyes start to feel tired and I immediately turn the light off and settle down for sleep.

The key is routine and for most people the use of any device in bed sends the wrong signal to your brain. You want it going into shutdown mode not entertain me mode. If you start watching Netflix, it can be too easy to watch a film or 3 episodes of something which means that even if you had good intentions of getting to sleep at 11pm you don’t finally get there until after 12.30.


  • Reduce the screen time for better sleep quality

For some of us – we will actually need to keep the phones out of our bedroom. Some people have no control and one message as you are drifting off will put the sleep back for another 2 hours. We need to learn how to use the sleep settings on phones effectively so that notifications do not wake us. Many people say that watching something in bed helps us sleep but usually that is not correct. Sometimes the activity on the screen stimulates us and keeps us awake rather than helping our slide to unconsciousness.

  • Make sure that you are sorted for the next morning

This might sound silly but sometimes the threat of tomorrow can be the obstacle that stops us from proper rest. We need to make sure that we have everything sorted for the morning. For me this means that I have my bag packed and sitting at the door. That I have my suit and shirt ready to go so that things are as uncomplicated as possible in the morning. I hate mornings. I not not a morning person at all but through some very simple forward planning it can take things off our mind that might cause us not to settle quickly.


  • Be deliberate about what works and what does not work

The reality of life is that we all have different things that will work for us as we plan a restful sleep. The joke in my home is that I am always on the lookout for the perfect pillow – one that is not too hard nor too soft, with just the right amount of support and just the right amount of cloud-like comfort. Having a dodgy pillow can be an obstacle to sleep. Having too much light in the bedroom. Having things being ‘too dark’ or not being able to regulate the temperature the way you want, not having the right mattress – all these things can get in the way of a good night of sleep. The key is to identify and remove any of the distractions that stop us from getting those eyes closed of their own free wheel.


Sleep is good for your health

About 20 years ago I ended up in hospital for a couple of weeks. We had a very young daughter who came alive at night and slept through the day (very different now!). Plus, I was just finished a masters degree that had kept me up really late most nights working to the wee hours to get assignments written on top of my day job. I used to boast that I was running on about 5 hours of sleep a night. People kept me going about sending emails at 2 and 3 in the morning and then BANG my health took a major crash and I had to re-evaluate things. I have since learned the importance and the restorative power of sleep. The older I get the more sleep I need. I am going to bed earlier and earlier but I also find this this is helping me manage to complete all the things that I need to be doing.

So – don’t underestimate the importance of sleep in YOUR life.   This is not just something for young people – but for all of us.  Our bodies need that valuable time to recharge, to sort out what has happened that day and to process the learning that occurred and our brains won’t have the capacity to achieve that without long periods of rest each night.



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