Sleep Like a Violinist
January 10, 2014
By Sarah Vander Schaaff
If one of your goals is to resist the urge to over-schedule and pressure your kids, then the New Year is a good time to revisit your intentions.
I found myself slipping into an old habit just a few days ago when talking with my third grader about her homework. She’d already had a big day and done her most pressing homework, but she still had to complete a Spanish assignment due later in the week.
“Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today,” I said, thinking my advice was wise.
Then I thought about what I was asking my eight-year-old to do: mimic me. In my effort to “stay afloat” I try to stay ahead in my work and my day-to-day errands. If I do get ahead, I don’t often savor the unexpected free time, I try to squeeze one more thing into the moment.
But a blog from Harvard Business Review that Nancy recently showed me drove home the idea that I had it backwards. Instead of ending the day when we are done with our work, we should end our work when the day is done.
As you might guess, the post, “Sleep is More Important than Food” is not subtle about making its point. Sleep is a non-negotiable priority. By asking my eight-year-old to do just one more thing, I was pushing dinner, bath, reading, and an incomprehensible amount of rainbow-loom time back into the evening, and that of course would mean a later bedtime.
Why was I doing that?
The HBR blog states, “… the research suggests that even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant toll on our health, our mood, our cognitive capacity and our productivity.”
To put it another way, the author says he’d rather work at, “…100 percent for 5 or 6 hours, than at 60 percent for 8 or 9 hours.”
I would do better to encourage my daughter to set a sustainable pace for the week, and by extension, the school year. In the case of the Spanish homework, the following day was a half-day; she’d have extra time to do it then.
My daughter’s school makes an effort to keep the homework load reasonable in the lower grades. But children work at different paces, and some, I have discovered, like to sharpen pencils and reorganize their desks at the most interesting times. So getting enough sleep, while contingent on homework and extra-curriculars, should not be subservient to them.
That is partly why my daughter’s school recently announced an initiative to address concerns that students arrive at college burned-out by years of stress, pressure, and sleep deprivation. And why just next week, the parents association is holding a workshop on the importance of sleep.
If you find yourself asking if putting sleep ahead of work is necessarily a path to underachievement, think of the study of violinists by Anders Ericcson mentioned in the HBR blog. Ericcson found that top performers slept much more than regular folks, averaging eight and a half hours of sleep, “…including a 20 to 30 minute mid afternoon nap, some 2 hours a day more than the average American.”
We may not all aspire to be a top violinist, but we can certainly try to sleep like one.
For suggestions on how to actually do that, read the full blog on HBR by clicking here.