I am not a morning person. Just this morning I lugged myself out of bed, scrambled down to my desk, reached down to pull my laptop out of it’s back and hit my forehead on the bowl of Halloween candy sitting on my desk. I’m just not fully functional at nine in the morning.
So, I may not be a very good example, but I am aware of the importance of sleep. My forehead still hurts as a reminder that I probably should have gone to bed earlier last night.
A couple weeks ago, the New York Magazine had an article, Snooze or Lose by Po Bronson, about just this subject. We are mean parents and force our kids [even our teenagers] to go to bed fairly early on school nights. The three younger kids go to bed at 8pm. Keaton’s bedtime is 9:30. And Justis’ is 10pm. They all grumble about this every night, but we’re firm about it, because we know how important sleep is to a child. But we didn’t realize just how important it is.
The surprise is how much sleep affects academic performance and emotional stability, as well as phenomena that we assumed to be entirely unrelated, such as the international obesity epidemic and the rise of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. A few scientists theorize that sleep problems during formative years can cause permanent changes in a childâ€™s brain structure: damage that one canâ€™t sleep off like a hangover. Itâ€™s even possible that many of the hallmark characteristics of being a tweener and teenâ€”moodiness, depression, and even binge eatingâ€”are actually symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation.
[Moodiness, huh? I think we need to move up Keaton and Justis' bedtimes. Hell, I need to move up my bedtime. ]
I knew lack of sleep made kids tired. And cranky. But I had no idea it effected their overall academic performance. Their emotional stability. Could cause them to gain weight. And may trigger ADHD.
Kids’ brains aren’t fully developed until they are 21 years of age. So not getting enough sleep in an adult impairs our ability to think the next day, but for kids it can cause permanent damage.
A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development
Studies have shown that sleep really does make an impact on teens and grades. According to this article, “Teens who received Aâ€™s averaged about fifteen more minutes sleep than the B students, who in turn averaged eleven more minutes than the Câ€™s, and the Câ€™s had ten more minutes than the Dâ€™s.” Just fifteen minutes a night can help a teen raise his B average to an A. That’s pretty amazing.
Apparently we use sleep to not only energize our tired bodies, but we also need sleep to process everything we’ve learned throughout the day. And not everything is processed during REM sleep. Different skills are synthesized during different sleep times. So the more you learn during the day, the more sleep you need to process it.
Perhaps most fascinating, the emotional context of a memory affects where it gets processed. Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories get processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories yet recall gloomy memories just fine.
So when we aren’t getting enough sleep we tend to forget all those things that make us happy. Who wants to go around only remembering those negative experiences and forgetting all those positive ones? Not me. And I’m pretty sure my teenagers would be easier to live with if they could remember the good things that happened, not just the embarrassment they felt when they farted in class. [Although I have boys so farting in class is probably a right of passage for them.]
I don’t know about your house, but in my house the kids stay up later on weekends. The younger kids stay up until 10pm [two hours later than on school nights] and our teenagers don’t have a set bedtime, but they are usually in bed around midnight if they don’t have friends over. Well, according to studies, staying up later on the weekends is equivalent to jet lag. It’s like we fly our kids to California every weekend and expect them to wide eyed and bushy tailed for school back here on Monday morning. I can’t even handle the one hour time change for Daylight Savings Time, but I’m essentially sending my kids over two time zones every weekend and expecting them to still perform well in school.
And that’s just the cognitive benefits of sleep. It’s also been shown that sleep helps combat obesity.
Sleep loss increases the hormone ghrelin, which signals hunger, and decreases its metabolic opposite, leptin, which suppresses appetite. Sleep loss also elevates the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is lipogenic, meaning it stimulates your body to make fat. Human growth hormone is also disrupted. Normally secreted as a big pulse at the beginning of sleep, growth hormone is essential for the breakdown of fat.
A study at the University of Texas at Houston found that in the Houston public schools a child’s odds of obesity increased by up to 80% for every hour of sleep they lost. 80% for just ONE HOUR. That’s incredible.
On last week’s Jumping Monkey’s podcast, Leo asked Ashley Merryman, who wrote the companion article How To Get Kids To Sleep More on nymag.com, how many hours of sleep kids actually need. Ashley was able to give some general guidelines, but obviously it varies by person. She said, according to sleep scientists, preschoolers should get around 12 hours of sleep a night, school age kids should get around 10 to 11 hours a night and adolescents should get 9 1/4 hours a night. But most teenagers are only getting around 6.7 hours each night.
In her article, Ashley Merryman doesn’t just give us the obvious ways to get kids to sleep. Obviously kids will sleep better in a dark room with no TV and without caffeine, but there are other ways to help our kids get more shut eye.
- Keep the room cool.
- Don’t let them watch TV to “wind down” before bed. The light from the TV stimulates the body.
- Have consistent bedtime and wake up times.
- Keep those same consistent bedtimes on weekends.
- Let your kids be active and take part in extracurricular activities, but not at the expense of sleep.
- Naps make you feel better, but they don’t help your cognitive skills. Get enough sleep at night instead.
- If you child is snoring it may be a sign their brain isn’t getting enough oxygen. Discuss it with you doctor.
- Consult a qualified sleep specialist if your child has a sleep disorder to avoid other ailments such as ADHD.
So, are you’re kids getting enough sleep? Are they world travelers on the weekend [even though they haven't left home]? Then you need to check out these articles and read more about the benefits of sleep on Po and Ashley’s blog. It’s very interesting.