Dreams and Premonitions
Every section of Health Class is a bit different. In the class on Sleep we always start by talking about sleep stages and the role of each stage for the brain. Generally, as we take a survey of sleep hours and preferences around the class, the girls can see that 9-11 hours is a reasonable amount, and even if they aren't carving out the time, other girls are. And sometimes the discussion takes an unexpected turn, as the girls have become comfortable sharing experiences over the previous classes.
One time, two sisters in Middle School shared that they had hallucinations sometimes at night. It turned out that their sleep was quite short because they liked to stay up late and chat, while their parents wanted them to be up by 6, which is rough for many kids that age even when they go to sleep early. I reached out to the mom afterwards in case they hadn't mentioned this to her, because this seemed to signal a good deal of sleep debt. (Or a family tendency towards hallucinations, which is a separate concern.)
Once, in a High School class, a girl wrote in the chat that she "hated dreams because she had a bad dream that came true". I asked her to turn on her mic and tell us since she definitely had everyone's full attention. It turned out that she had dreamed her brother died, and then a few years later, her mom had miscarried a baby brother about halfway through the pregnancy.
Her classmates shared condolences, and also that they had dreamed sad things about their families that HADN'T come true. We discussed how dreams often have our fears or hopes, and it's natural to worry sometimes about the welfare of your family since you care so much about them. We talked about the lighter side like dreaming our hopes, like a trip you want to take, or the person you have a crush on.
Building on this discussion, one girl asked what the odds of miscarriage were, and we talked about the overall odds, how those odds change through the course of pregnancy and with the age of the mom, and how per-person odds are different from general statistics; some women have no or few miscarriages over many pregnancies, while some have more miscarriages than pregnancies. With the topic on the table, it was a natural way to put this risk in perspective before the odds apply to them personally.
Once someone said she had had a dream that her mom committed suicide, and she was worried this was a premonition. This gave me pause. Suicide is one of those almost unimaginable things that people recoil from thinking about. Even in a virtual classroom, you can feel the atmosphere change and everyone take a collective breath. In years of teaching this class, no girl had ever said this before.
So I shared a story, which I believe is from Gavin de Becker's book called The Gift of Fear, about a cop who kept dreaming he got killed on the beat. He told another cop friend, and the friend said he was having this dream because his partner on the beat was sloppy, and it was just a matter of time until something happened.
This girl had described her mom in previous classes as loving and fun. I doubted her mom was planning suicide. But her mom might well be overwhelmed with responsibilities for the kids, house, and school. Since this girl was the oldest, I told her that oldest children seem to absorb their parents' stress very readily, and sense their moods. And it made sense to suggest that she help out in the ways that she could, to lighten her mom's load, and talk with her siblings about it helping out more.
The rest of the class shared some of the worries on their mind that had also come into their dreams, and we also shared stories of sleep walking, night terrors, and sleep paralysis. Sometimes girls don't realize that these are fairly common experiences, and it's reassuring for them to hear from others. They compare their experiences with naps, and we talk about recharging strategies for rest without sleep. We talk about best times of day to accomplish different kinds of tasks, and how they feel and behave on short sleep.
All of this builds the idea that taking care of themselves is normal and they will figure out what works best over time and with experimentation. It also gives them greater respect for the range of experience that others have around sleep timing and length, and an opportunity to reflect on how sleep affects their mood, energy and appetite. Drawing out these connections together is a large part of the benefit of the class, as well as addressing the unexpected when it comes up.