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Ahhh Sleep, Glorious Sleep!

It wasn’t until I left home that I realised how crucial it was that a consistent routine before bed was the key to not only a great sleep, but also ensuring that the following day I found life as the best version of myself. My mother and father were Teacher and Policeman respectively. Added to this, they were both Irish-Catholic so the non-negotiable values in our household were discipline, courtesy, manners, ‘eat everything on your plate’ and routine.

Born in Bundaberg and then largely raised in Ingham in far north Queensland, I was one of four and we were fairly safe to stay out and play until dark – clearly not before our homework was done (and checked) – and mum would always send us out on our bikes or into the yard to play cricket with dad telling us ‘if you come in before the street lights come on, I’ll give you jobs to do’. This way, mum could have her peace, get dinner ready and set us up for our bedtime routine.

Everyone would sit for dinner, we would talk about our day at school, we would eat everything on our plate (or distribute our vegetables to the pot plants or our dog, Copper) and our routine would begin. Across the space of two or so hours, showers were had, books read, dad jokes told, television was off (when we finally bought one) and we would go to bed. Becoming a father, except for sending them out until dark, I have utilised this routine with my children and it is paying dividends. I am by no means the ‘Oscar-winning’ parent – but in my blog today l offer some insight into the benefits of using a consistent pre-sleep routine and therefore assist a regulated circadian rhythm.

Before defining a circadian rhythm, it is worthwhile noting the difference between ‘rest’ and ‘relaxation’. Rest is where your body ceases to move in order to recover from exertion. This could be both mentally and physically – from digging holes for an hour or studying for a couple of hours – our bodies need time to heal.

Relaxation on the other hand is the body’s ability to remove tension, stress and anxiety. This is generally done through meditation, practicing mindfulness, exercising and eating well. Both rest and relaxation can be accomplished through positive routines and effective sleeping habits. Like all habits, we need to work hard on practicing how to implement them and then develop discipline around maintaining them. To achieve a circadian rhythm during sleep can be the result of a collection of actions and learned behaviours.

“Teenagers are the most sleep-deprived segment of the population. This is a very under-recognised problem and the cost to society in the healthy development of young people is profound.” *

The circadian rhythm (or body clock) according the The Sleep Health Foundation are all the behaviours – physical and mental – that occur following a daily cycle. When someone has a positive pre-sleep routine, the body’s circadian rhythm can allow a person a healthy night’s sleep. When this rhythm is disrupted, cellular regeneration can be affected which can lead to weight gain, irritability, and failure to retain information.

For example, when our students are watching screens until late at night, this will disrupt their circadian rhythm as this is the time at which their Hippocampus (part of the brain where memory is retained) is healing from a day at school. The science behind this is now so strong that there are schools who have sleep rooms where students can have a short nap and be monitored before and after attending class. This improves the chances of retaining knowledge. I am sure this is something we would all like the luxury of but generally it is not possible.

This has been one of the reasons for Ambrose Treacy introducing mindful moments and brain breaks to our classrooms – both to assist the boys in relaxing when needed and increasing oxygen to the brain and muscles when needing an energise. We also offer Yoga Club after school once a week. Parents can help develop positive routines at home by challenging their sons to meditate prior to bed and to reduce all device time within an hour and a half before bed. This will allow the body to produce melatonin, which is the natural chemical in the body, which is released when the sun disappears, and it becomes dark.

Like most families, I am now battling the digital world with my children. This ranges from iPads, PlayStation, Nintendo Switches and Television. ‘My friends are online and can use it, so why can’t I? You are so unfair dad.’ This is a common theme with my nine-year-old and as my three and five-year-old grow with the technology introduced by my eldest (I take full responsibility here also for these introductions – unfortunately, like most emerging generations, he is ten steps ahead of me). My job as the parent is to engage my kids in dialogue around positive choices with technology, what is an appropriate amount of time to spend on a screen and who they are connecting with when playing games. Thankfully, at this stage the greatest argument comes from deciding what Netflix show we should watch as a family. Days are divided and each has an opportunity to decide what to watch, but more importantly, there are no screens during the week. Friday to Sunday are the only times these come out and we have built a routine around this and a healthy habit to ensure this learned behaviour is a natural part of their week. The arguments continue to occur about mid-week usage and there are occasions where my sanity needs to remain intact whilst I make dinner so a quick flick of the switch can allow me to manage my responsibilities. We will always revert to our routine once I am on top of the household. I continue to work hard on this pattern of behaviour to ensure my children are achieving their best at school and with their relationships.

Before I wrap up, I would like to share the story of a Senior student from my previous school. His anxiety was preventing him from performing at his best. This had been the case for many years and he was missing a great deal of school. His OP prediction at the end of Year 11 was 9-12 – well under his potential. He made the decision at Christmas that year that he would refrain from computer games and social media. From this pivotal point in his life, his attendance became almost perfect, anxiety reduced, and he earned himself an OP 2 at the end of Year 12. His explanation was that he worked hard on his routines. His routine became habit – his behaviour became autonomous. This allowed him to remove a few of the 60,000 decisions we make each day and apply his thinking to his game plan, which was schoolwork and effectively operating as the best version of himself. His sleep was critical in this process and the screen reduction was a major part of this transformation.

In today’s climate we are busier than ever – boys are heavily committed, parents work late, and curriculum demands on students are increasing. Taking the easy decisions off the table so that we can work on the things that require higher-order brain functioning, working hard on the small things like routine and habits – especially before bed – can help us reach our potential, reduce anxiety and help us get that good night’s sleep that we deserve.

Challenge your family today and make one change for a week and see how you go.

Why not take this quiz and see how much you know about sleep. CLICK HERE.

Have a great weekend Ambrose Treacy Community!

Brendan Flanagan
Assistant Dean of Formation

*Dr Michael Carr- Gregg