James Maas Presents on Sleep

Speaking at this year’s Wellness Week All-School Meeting (ASM) on Wednesday about the importance of sleep for students, James Maas urged students to get the 9.25 hours of sleep recommended for a healthy sleep cycle and suggested that morning classes should start no earlier than 9 a.m.

Maas cited numerous studies regarding the negative effects of insufficient sleep, including the inability to concentrate, decrease in athletic ability and lower academic performance.

“You might say, there aren’t enough hours in the day. [You] just can’t get adequate sleep. But it’s my thesis that I’m going to try and prove to you today that if you concentrate on sleep and get adequate sleep, you’ll do better work, be more efficient, and have some free time left over,” said Maas in his speech.

When Maas asked Andover students how many hours of sleep they get on average, the majority of students in the room raised their hand at six hours, over three hours fewer than Maas’s recommended 9.25. The national average amount of sleep that high school students get is 6.1 hours, according to Maas.

“If you learn anything else in the next half hour, I want you to learn that sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. It is the quality and quantity of your sleep that will turn into your success here and in life,” said Maas.

During his speech, Maas indicated that getting a healthy amount of sleep would boost students’ moods and increase efficiency in work, giving students more free time in the day.

Maas referred to studies on the activity of brain waves (EEG) during sleep. There are five different types of sleep that the body moves between throughout a night of sleep.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is the phase of sleep in which people dream and is crucial because the brain transfers data from the short-term memory region of the brain and converts it into long-term memories. REM cycles occur every 90 minutes, according to Maas.

Maas said that continuous sleep is crucial to achieving the optimal amount of REM sleep because the length of REM sleep doubles with each cycle.

He also discussed the importance of “sleep spindles,” bursts of brain activity during Stage II sleep, which create the muscle memory necessary to improve athletic performance.

“Your internal, biological rhythm is naturally set to go to sleep at three in the morning and get up at 11. So I propose that no school should start any classes before 9 or 9:30 a.m. Your brain cells having to do with learning early in the morning are totally silent. What a waste of educational dollars,” said Maas.

Maas worked with Deerfield Academy to promote better sleep habits by starting classes later. The term following the change showed the largest increase in grade point average between terms since the founding of the school, as well as improvement in athletic records, according to Maas.

Maas presented several examples of athletes he had helped become more efficient and attentive during their performance by encouraging them to establish a good sleep schedule. Some of the athletes include Sarah Hughes, winner of the 2002 Winter Olympics gold medal in figure skating and Danny Briere, who plays for the Philadelphia Flyers National Hockey League team.

Hughes was so frustrated with her progress in skating that she wanted to quit skating. Maas told Hughes that if she gave up her two-hour skating practices at four o’clock in the morning, she would be able to commit routines to muscle memory more easily.

“I try to get 8 hours. Midnight to 8. I try to power nap at every opportunity. When I don’t get 8, I can tell it in my lecturing, I stumble upon things, I know the energy needed to be teacher. And it makes a heck of a difference in my golf game, and in my tennis game,” said Maas in an interview with The Phillipian.

Maas served as a professor at Cornell University and also as Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow. He received his B.A. from Williams College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Cornell. He is best known for researching on the relationship between sleep and performance.

Maas has spoken twice before at Andover, most recently in 2008.

He was invited back by Carlos Hoyt, Associate Dean of Students and Graham House Counselor, and faculty and alumni encouraged him to speak again, according to Maas.