Wellness (Sleep)


I know most of us don't have a huge amount of free time, but when you do get a spare moment, I strongly recommend taking a gander at Why We Sleep by Cal/Berkeley Neuroscientist Mathew Walker. He and his colleagues have a state-of-the-art sleep lab. Take a look at their VERY COOL Center for Human Sleep Science.

Dr. Walker gives fascinating insight and analysis of how our brains process our learning while we sleep and dream.

I'm paraphrasing from memory here, so I'll probably have students do a wee bit of research to correct me...

To wit:

Dr. Walker presents and supports an amazing explanation of how our brain works to separate, eliminate and categorize the huge amounts of sensory data and learning our brain experiences during the day.

The aspects relating to learning are particular poignant:

Dr. Walker's research suggests that our brain spends the first part of our evening sleep period by sifting the day's learning. Unimportant data is discarded, and important/relevant new learning is set aside for further processing.

As the night progresses, more of our brain's 'attention' is set to categorizing AND placing that learning in LONG TERM STORAGE in our brain.

The REALY INTERESTING part is that this process takes at least 7 hours.

If we go to bed later than we should, we lose the part of our sleep associated with sifting the new learning.

If we wake up too early, we lose the critical process that stores our new learning.

Apparently, our brains hold us to a pretty strict timetable and do NOT adjust very well.

The key to our high school classes and especially in college seems to be -- staying up late to 'cram' for a test or or finish a paper robs our brain of critical sifting/processing time.

Waking up too early is even worse. Dr Walker's research suggests that waking up too early interrupts the 'categorizing' part of our sleep time where new learning is separated, categorized AND STORED for long term use.

He also goes on at length at the changes that happen during adolescence that shift our brain patterns.... that is our brains are programmed to go to sleep later and wake up later.

That science is very well documented, and several school districts in our area such as Bainbridge and Seattle have "Flipped" their schedules so that young students go to school earlier, and high school students go to school later.


When I was in college I majored in Physics & History while minoring in Math and I was part of the school swim team that was fairly competitive (we finished 5th, 4th and 3rd at the NCAA Div II Swimming and Diving Championships my first 3 years there)

My 'normal' daily schedule during the week was:

5:30 - Wake up
6:00 - 7:30 Morning Workout
8:00 - 8:30 Breakfast
8:30 - 9:30 Nap
10:00 - 2:00 classes (with lunch in there somewhere)
2:00 - 4:00 Study (Sometimes a short nap too)
4:00 - 6:00 Afternoon workout
6:00 - 6:45 Dinner
7:00 - 12:00 Study
12:30 - 5:30 sleep

I couldn't quite figure why my studies were so difficult most days. I knew I was tired, but I figured frequent napping would help (It DID, at least with the sleep part). What I didn't realize that I was basically cutting out a large part of my sleep cycle where my daily learning SHOULD have been busily categorized and stored in my brain.

My solution? Study all weekend..... I do NOT recommend this.

Soooo.... if Dr. Walker's research is accurate (He is considered a leader in the field, although I hope and encourage you to go and see if you agree), you aren't doing anyone, especially yourself, any good by burning the midnight oil and getting up early.


Dr. Walker explains at length how our bodies are programmed according to our Circadian Rhythms, which are basically sleep cycles based on night and day.

Chemicals build up in our brains during the day that induce 'sleep pressure' as the day goes on.

Additionally, our brains also release a chemical called melotonin that basically tells our body that it's nightime, and we should be thinking about going to bed.

The BAD NEWS is that bright blue light, like that given off by our phones and tablets, has the opposite effect. That blue light essentially sends our bodies a counter-signal that says "Sun's UP, time to get out of bed!"

Which ain't so good.

Both Dr Walker's studies and the study referenced below show direct, measurable influences of blue light. The findings are the same:

The longer we are exposed to blue light before we go to bed, the longer it takes us to go to sleep.

Scientific American has a really interesting interview on this subject with neuroscience researchers from Harvard University and Thomas Jefferson University.

Here's another study

And another...

And another one reviewed in National Geographic that covers lots more ground, it's very, very interesting.


My Black Hen Lays Eggs in the Relative When

She Won't Lay Them Here (In the Probable NOW)

Because She's Unable to Postulate HOW