Ilya Sterin's Newsletter #1

20 Jan 2023    3 mins read.

School Performance

Key to increased school performance

A little background first. For the last eight years, I’ve been working on optimizing my sleep. It started somewhere in 2012 when we were growing our startup, Chronotrack. Things were hectic, and I was beginning to feel the impact of sleep deprivation. I could personally observe how lack of proper sleep negatively affected my well-being, but I lacked the scientific explanation behind it. Then came Mathew Walker’s excellent book, Why We Sleep. If you prefer to listen, you can get most of the insight by listening to this 3 part podcast series with Mathew and Peter Attia.

I’ll probably write a blog post on my sleep optimization experiences in the next few weeks.

Diet, exercise, and sleep are the three pillars of health, mostly within our control. Good health requires optimizing all of the above, but given a choice to only optimize one, I’d choose sleep every time. It’s only recently that science has started to identify the detrimental effects of poor modern era sleep on mental, metabolic, and cardiovascular health. As Mathew Walker says, “It took evolution half a billion years to perfect sleep, and it took humans less than two centuries to destroy it.”

So what effects do our modern industrial day school schedules have on the health and performance of our kids?

Circadian rhythms are genetically determined and set in infancy. There are 3 chronotypes, early risers make up about 40%, night owls make up 30%, and the other 30% are somewhere in between. There is a small deviation during adolescence, where the circadian rhythm temporarily adjusts to a later sleep and wake-up time, and in turn, makes the majority of adolescents, night owls.

Most school start times are much more favorable towards the early risers, leaving the majority of our kids having to regularly fight their body’s natural sleep cycle. This, in turn, causes poor health, underperformance (mental and physical), and accidents.

Numerous studies show that later school start times cause an increase in grades, decrease in depression, better weight regulation, and lowers risky behavior such as drinking, smoking, and illicit drug use. What’s even more interesting is that although schools started later, they ended at the same time. Thus, students were able to perform better while simultaneously spending less time in school. Good sleep is critical for learning and retention. You can find the references to numerous studies here: JCSM - Delaying Middle School and High School Start Times Promotes Student Health and Performance: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Position Statement.

So what does this all mean for me? When the time comes, school start times will be one of the major factors Nikki and I use to select Max’s school.

What I’m currently reading

I’m currently finishing “High output management” by Intel’s former CEO, Andrew Grove. It’s a back-to-basics classic in management and leadership. Although a lot of examples are factory/operations focused, I found that almost all concepts equally apply to knowledge-based businesses (i.e., software products, design, consulting, etc…). There is something to be said about time tested leadership and management techniques. Highly recommended!

Product I’m currently loving

I’ve used blue-blocking glasses for over two years. Blue light is detrimental to the release of melatonin needed for healthy sleep. Wearing them after sunset helps your body prepare for sleep. I’ve owned numerous cheaper pairs from Amazon, but the downside is the color distortion. It blocks the harmful blue light, but your world turns yellow.

Then I found Felix Gray sleep glasses. They have a proprietary lens technology that does not distort true color while blocking over 90% of the highest range of blue light (440-500nm) and can be purchased with or without a prescription. They look great, and I sleep better. There is also a sleep study which was done using their lenses: Blue Light-Blocking Glasses May Help With Sleep, Cognition.