Thursday, 1 September 2011

Health, Wealth and Wisdom

One simple piece of folk wisdom that is valued the world over is the concept of heading to bed at a sensible time in order to wake early enough to begin a solid day’s work. Hutterites are taught from a young age the importance of good work ethics, making it essential to rise in time for communal breakfast. Since sleeping late is generally equated with laziness, the names Faulenzer und Schlofmütz are often associated with those who do. Even the Bible contains teachings, to that effect: How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? When wilt thou  arise out of thy sleep? Proverbs 6:9

                     I can still hear my Grandpa Maendel’s admonition, "Just like the children of Israel had to get up early to gather manna, so should we get up early for devotions, before starting the work day." For Olvetter this meant  personal prayer, Bible reading and a morning hymn such as  this one:

Mit meinem Gott tu ich aufsteh’n
Und fröhlich an die Arbeit geh’n!
O Gott, lass mir’s gelingen
Auf das ich mög heut diesem Tag,
Mein Werk in dir vollbringen.

          It should not really surprise us, therefore, that the most modern brain research today provides powerful biological reasons for ensuring that we follow Benjamin Franklin’s proverbial advice: “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
Some years ago, Dr. Kathie Nunley, an educational psychologist, author and researcher from  southern New Hampshire,  spoke at a Portage School Division in-service, professional development day, on the topic “Latest Brain Research.” Her focus was on the importance of getting a good night’s rest, particularly children! Why is sufficient sleep so important?

In addition to resting the body, recent brain research indicates that a good night’s sleep is also essential for the brain and its development: Insufficient sleep prevents our brain from developing to its full capacity. This is especially true for children, who are acquiring a great deal of new information daily.

            Dr. Nunley explained how insufficient sleep affects children’s daytime ability to function. Besides being a time for cells and general body tissues to rejuvenate and repair, sleep is also the time when our brain’s maintenance occurs. While we sleep, nerve cells branch in our brain. Thus ‘hardwiring’ or storing information learned throughout the day in the long-term complex network of neuron branches. Children deprived of sleep are unable to process and use acquired information as efficiently as children who get sufficient sleep. Astonishingly, information that is not ‘hardwired’ stays in the brain for only eighteen to twenty-one hours! With special needs children, this time span is even shorter.

             “Young children need tremendous amounts of sleep,” Dr. Nunley emphasized, “Not only because they are growing, but because their brains require a great deal of maintenance time, branching and subsequent learning.” Clearly, what we learn throughout the day is important, but what happens while we get the required hours of sleep is equally important: learning and sleeping go hand in hand!

            How much sleep is enough? In reality, we should go to bed at night and sleep until our body is fully rested, that is, waking up on its own, as opposed to retiring very late at night and being wakened up by an alarm clock or some other wake up call, since these deprive us of a well-maintained brain. A wake up call interrupts our ‘hardwiring’ thus, interfering with a vital component in our learning process.

Adequate rest consists of getting sufficient sleep. Preschoolers need eleven hours each night, children in the elementary and middle grades ten and a half hours, while high schoolers need eight and a half. Adults generally need seven hours.

Doing the math, this means all children should be put to bed between eight and nine o clock PM in order for them to be ready for seven-fifteen AM breakfast. Once a punctual and consistent bedtime routine is established, children typically adhere to it without incident and subsequently function better the next day. In contrast, children who have not had sufficient hours of sleep, generally refuse to eat breakfast, are tired and easily irritated, making it difficult for them to attend to their studies. 

From personal experience we all know, after a few late nights, we tend to feel drowsy and inattentive during the day and are easily irritated. Validating what has been said by experts, “Sleep deprivation robs us of half of our mental power and all of our sense of humour.”

Clearly, our failure to insist on an ‘early to bed’ routine deprives children the opportunity to gain knowledge to their full potential. The old adage “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” can no longer be brushed off as “just a nursery rhyme.” Modern brain research has proved its validity. 


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