Unschool Learning, Why Do We Sleep?

Sleep plays an important role in restoring our physical health and helps our brains work faster and keeps us feeling good.

Sleep is a mysterious thing, as it actually makes more sense for us not to need it. A sleeping creature is much more vulnerable to attack from predators.

So why do we all need it so much?

Its a good question… And I’m so glad my little one is curious about it. After all, sleep is kind of one of those things that is important to all of us in our life. We spend almost a third of our life sleeping and would not survive more than a few days without it.

I cannot wait to delve in and help her to learn as much as she wants to about it.

It turns out people have been curious about the purpose and benefits of sleep, since the beginning of human history.

Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that sleep was a way for the body to fully digest food, he named it ‘concoction’.

In ancient Hawaii people believed that sleeping and dreams were a way to connect and maintain relationships with ancestral guardians. They used information from dreams to make important decisions.

In our modern culture scientists believe that sleep is a way for the brain to process experiences from the day, organise memories and restore health to the physical body.

However the same scientists admit that although they are able to observe some of the processes that occur in the body during sleep, there are still many questions left unanswered.

The sleep council describes sleep in its simplest terms as “an extended bout of rest we experience on a daily basis, where we most often lay down with our eyes closed”.

There are four stages of Sleep that we go through each night, we only dream during the REM stage.

We cycle through each of the four stages of Sleep throughout the night.

If we are woken up during a stage when we are in a deep sleep we can feel extra groggy and tired.

Sleep cycle image from http://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk

If we want to get a restful night’s sleep it is a good idea to get outdoors and get fresh air, eat healthy and not sit in front of screens.

Our bodies follow a natural biological rhythm (called a circadian rhythm) that operates roughly on the same cycle every 24 hours, we share these rhythms with other humans, animals and plants.

Circadian rhythms also looks after many other natural things in our body such as hunger, body temperature, blood pressure and the release of different hormones (such as melatonin and cortisol).

The magic thing about circadian rhythms in our body is that they operate roughly the same every 24 hours without needing any time cues from the environment.

Although there are ways that you can help support the natural rhythm of things by following your instincts about when your body feels energetic, tired or hungry.

This is why people who have problems with sleep might be advised not to do to lots of exercise late in the evening, eat spicy or stimulating food just before bed.

The circadian sleep rhythm is also regularly reset by the daily light-dark cycle. The sun gives off lots of blue light rays that wakes up our ‘body clock’ ready to be active for the day (hence why any blue light screen time before bed can be a bad idea).

Learning about sleep has been super interesting and we can’t wait to do more research and see what we can find out about this amazing mysterious practice.

What I love most is that there is no definitive answer about what sleep exactly is…or why we need it.

Making it the perfect question for a child to be curious and flex their brain around…in a way, their guess is almost as good as ours!

I love that we are free to expand our learning beyond pretty pinterest worksheets (as satisfying as these can be!) or multiple choice exams that offer succinct answers.

Learning is also about sitting with your own thoughts, instincts or ideas.

Mulling things over, pondering, puzzling, debating… laying new pathways, getting creative and seeing what original ideas arise.

How else would humans been able to invent and progress throughout time?

In my opinion, children’s learning should never exclude the chance to ponder things we don’t necessarily feel that we know the answer to.

Learning is often more about the process you take to arrive at a solution. To ask a question and consider if an answer that is offered is enough to satisfy your curiosity is the building blocks for critical thinking.

Critical thinking and analysing information are valuable skills for life.

After finding out as much as we could about sleep… We made a dream journal to draw a picture of our dream each night for a week and write a sentence about how it left us feeling.

We also drew a body clock picture to check in with ourselves over the day to see when we felt most hungry, tired or energetic… Then compared it to a diagram of the common human circadian sleep cycle.

Clearly we are not going to win any awards for our professional art work! Hopefully it shows that anyone can create learning opportunities on the road, you don’t need the internet for templates or fancy worksheets… Just a biro, some paper and some big questions!