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Sleep

         Sleep.  It goes without saying that we are all better with it rather than without.  We all have our own different tolerances when it comes to lack of sleep, but the manifestations of sleep deprivation are often similar:  irritability, lethargy, or struggling to focus on even the most mundane tasks.  However, what impact does sleep have on our brain?  As educators and learners, what do we gain from a good night’s sleep?   A lot, as it turns out.  We take in a lot of information during the day.  Classroom discussions, reading, observations, labs, and our use of technology and internet resources are inundating our brains with an endless supply of words, thoughts, and ideas.  It is important that we give our brains the time to consolidate all of this information.  Several presenters at the Learning and the Brain Conference used the word “pruning” to describe this process.  In order for the brain to go back and retrieve information, things need to be consolidated and tidy.  The brain needs to store and organize important information and weed out the less significant details.  Sleep is the critical component because all of this pruning happens when we have sustained, undisturbed sleep.  
          Another layer that was added to this conversation was our increased use of technology, especially at night.  We get sleep because the pineal gland (a pea-sized gland located in the brain) creates melatonin.  In short, melatonin production increases when it is dark and decreases when it is light.  When we are using our computers, hand-held devices, watching television, or playing video games our melatonin levels drop because of the light being emitted from the screens and we sleep less.  Studies show that the use of technology is having an impact on our brains when considering its effect on sleeping patterns.  Teens, for example, are four times likelier to suffer from daytime sleepiness if they are texting late into the evening.  Others studies have found a direct correlation between sleep deprivation and memory loss.   This suggests that we not only need to consider how much technology we are using, but also when we are using it.  Overall, when we are “online”, it is important to remember much of our “offline” wisdom pertaining to a healthy lifestyle.

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