Closing the Loop

Why Restful Nights Lead to Optimistic Days


letter-t-sans-serifhe fourth step on our 24-hour Good Day Loop is an Optimistic Good Day filled with positivity and productivity. But how exactly does a good night relate to a good day? And what do we mean by “productivity”?


Why Good Nights are Good Days

It’s common sense that what happens during the day affects how you go to sleep at night: you may lie awake replaying that stressful conversation, or you might drift off with a smile, remembering something wonderful.

Likewise, what we do at night can directly affect our potential the next day. Business Insider featured an article on what successful people habitually do before bed, and their number one response was reading. A 2012 study actually found that reading and learning before bed is best for memory.

We’re beginning to understand that what we do before bed matters when it comes to our creative performance. Psychologists at UC San Diego have discovered how, during REM sleep, the brain is relaxed enough to form new connections using both our explicit and intrinsic pattern recognition systems (i.e., logic and intuition). Steven Kotler, New York Times best-selling author and leading expert on optimal human performance, writes that the key to accessing your creative mind is not to work harder–rather, the opposite: “The secret, if there is one, is just about being able to relax enough for the intrinsic system to do its stuff.” Kotler points to Ray Kurzweil, American inventor and computer scientist, as an example; Kurzweil actually works through complex engineering design problems through lucid dreaming. Thus, by helping children getting a good night’s sleep, we are giving them a key to unlocking their creative potential.

There’s no formula for a good night: what is most important is not what we do before bed so much as how we feel before we fall asleep. “It’s really less about your activities and more about your state of mind,” says Michael Woodward, Ph.D. and organizational psychologist.

The relationship between sleep and mood is complex, but researchers believe that better understanding this connection is important for intervening in sleep disorders, depression, and anxiety. Early in 2017, a Chinese study of university students concluded that “optimism and sleep quality were both cause and effect of each other.” Similarly, Finnish researchers at the University of Helsinki released a report showing there’s a positive relationship between the quality of children’s sleep and their optimism, self-esteem, and social competence.

We might assume that optimism is important for children, but why?

Optimism is more than having a positive outlook for the future. There is a key link between optimism and creativity: those who are optimistic have the capacity to meet ambiguity and embrace uncertainty. In her popular TED talk on “What Adults Can Learn from Kids,” Adora Svitak explains how children believe in big ideas. Whereas adults are often quick to turn down solutions that seem unfeasible, children’s optimistic perspective allows them to view more possibilities. Jan Dalley writes on how optimism is crucial for artists living in countries where they face censorship and repression; this also applies to children growing up in challenging circumstances. A child living in poverty needs a strong sense of optimism so that she can imagine and create a new reality for herself—which is true “productivity.”

A New Productivity

When you hear the word productivity, you might imagine a factory line of workers. The Western education and work model is an industrial-age relic; students and employees are expected to clock in and out every day, and their success is determined by their dollar value. The neoliberal purpose of education is for children to grow up and contribute to the global economy. However, this is changing: people are starting to define their personal meaning of success and to envision new educational paradigms. Film-maker, author, and educator Barnet Bain told his students that they had succeeded in his course depending on how productive they had been—productive meaning how much they had learned about themselves along their journey.

Pajama Program doesn’t want children to have good nights so that they can succeed at anyone else’s definition of success; we want children to wake up optimistic and ready to create their own vision of the future for themselves and for our world. The purpose of reading bedtime stories to children isn’t to improve their employability; we read them stories to ignite their imagination and share the ancient power of narrative. Through stories, we remember what it means to be human, and find ourselves along the way.

This is how, and why, our goal is to close the 24-hour Good Day Loop so that children can have good nights and optimistic days.

Help us support good nights for good days for all children, everywhere.