Thursday, June 14, 2007

Learning Styles and Your Sleep

What’s your Learning Style when it comes to the preferred time of day? I’m a true-blue night owl, and if I had the world my way, we would all go to bed at 3 a.m. and sleep till lunchtime. But is it such a good idea?

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise,” goes the old saying. I usually paraphrase it as “Early to rise and early to bed makes you no fun before you’re dead.”

Then there is “The early bird catches the worm” with the caveat that “It’s the early worm that gets caught”.

So many sayings, so much folklore. Even your mother probably told you that sleep is best before midnight. I didn’t believe her: after all, the body doesn't know what time it is, so it can’t possibly matter what time you go to bed. Surely, when they say “sleep before midnight is the healthiest for you”, they must mean “the first two or so hours of your sleep are the most important”.

However, I've just read an interesting article that explains why our mothers were right all along. Research has shown that sleeping from 10pm to 6am results in much more rest than sleep from 12-8 or 2am-10am. It's to do with the body's natural clock: our sleep hormone (melatonin) is released an hour or two after it gets dark outside. That’s our natural biological cue for banking the fire in the cave and burrowing down into the bed of straw and furs.

If you miss that cue, you will have to wait another 90 minutes or so before the second wave of sleepiness hits you... but this one will not produce sleep that’s as sound and healthy as that first hormone-laden wave.

This means that night owls are at a disadvantage biologically, because we do our best work after dark. So we have a choice:
· get some healthy sleep and miss out on our productive time (this may lead to stress because we are then forced to work in a time slot that goes against our Working or Learning Style),
· or work in your preferred evening time slot, but miss out on the health benefits of sleep before midnight.

So what is a night owl to do? You may like to alternate your late evening activities: use it for sleep every second or third day, for example. It’s also important to have a look at your Working or Learning Style report to see if there is another time slot that you can use for working on something new or difficult.

If you are forced to work in a non-preferred time slot, then at least make sure that all your other preferences (environmental, physical, social, and so on) are satisfied in order to minimise the stress you will be placing on yourself by working against your Working or Learning Style.

(To assess your Working or Learning Style, please visit us on

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