Wednesday, May 21, 2014

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Lawrence Block wrote a series of books about a man named Evan Tanner. This is not Block's most popular mystery series by any stretch, but it's my personal favorite. Don't pick these up if you aren't willing to do some serious suspending of disbelief. I am and I believe these books are worth it.
Evan was injured during the Korean War and the sleep center of his brain was damaged. As a result, he does not sleep. Ever. He can't. I love this because it explains how he has been able to learn a ridiculous number of languages, read about history and current events in many different countries, and basically just know so much more than I do about anything. He has six to eight more hours everyday than I do!
I am jealous of Evan, even when Block writes scenes into the books that show how challenging this can be because Evan has to pretend to sleep at times to keep up appearances with others. Just lying in bed for extended periods does not appeal to me. But the trade off would be worth it.
As a parent and as a teacher, sleep is something I think about way too often. My husband and I just chatted tonight about our daughters' bedtime and whether or not we thought it was working for them (and, to be honest, for us). I have many conversations with parents about when their children go to bed. In fact, for homework every night one of the things my kiddos write down is, "Bed by 8."
There seems to be a lot of research supporting my obsession with sleep. KQED in San Francisco had a brief thing about how our students need more sleep. Basically we think they're getting plenty of sleep but they aren't. 
Ed Week covered a study suggesting the supreme importance of regular bedtimes for young children in regards to their behavior.
And the BBC wrote about the way in which sleep cleanses our brains of toxins. This opens up lots of questions about how much sleep impacts brain disorders as well as more common behavior or learning challenges.
Reading all of these is reassuring and validating. However, I've had conversations with folks I greatly respect who grew up in other cultures who have told me that bedtimes didn't exist. Kids went to bed when they were tired. It seemed to work, at least in their eyes.
So I have to wonder, has our society's focus on sleep and bedtimes impacted our beliefs about this? Have we created structures that mean we require more structured sleep? Or are consistent bedtimes and a certain amount of sleep truly critical? 
Cross-posted at