I just settled into my office chair to write this blog post. It is 10:52 p.m. I realize that I need to get up by 6:45 to get my oldest son off to Jr. High, but with an out-of-town husband and a long day of kid-shuttling, laundry-folding, assignment-grading, journal-editing and potty-training (yes, I started down that road today for the fourth and final time, but that’s another post altogether), the only quiet time I have is now.
And I kind of like this time of night anyway, especially when my much more sleep-disciplined husband is out of town and doesn’t expect me to turn in with him. I like the quiet. The ticking clock. The children all nestled and snug. Yes, nighttime can draw me in, and staying up late writing or reading or (ahem) playing inane games on Facebook seems seductive and relaxing at 11:45 p.m.
It’s at 6:45 a.m. that my late-night chickens come come to roost. You see, I need eight hours of sleep a night. For a long time I’ve been vaguely ashamed of this, since it seems that all sorts of high powered and important people (Martha Stewart, Thomas Edison, the mom in my neighborhood who runs marathons and works and keeps her house as neat as a pin) can get by on five or six. For many years I thought I could will myself out of my seemingly exorbitant sleep needs. When my first child was born I taught high school, and the 96-97 school year remains in my memory a blur of befuddled exhaustion. When I asked a fellow teacher (and mom) if I’d ever stop stumbling into my classroom all foggy-headed at 7 a.m., I remember her telling me, “You’ve just gotta power through it, babe. I haven’t slept more than six hours a night for ten years. Pretty soon you’ll adjust.”
Alas, I never adjusted. Even after I quit working and became a full-time mom, my body kept stubbornly insisting that unless I got at LEAST 7 hours a night, but preferably 8, I’d clomp around all day, irritable and draggy and snappish. During the few times in my life I tried to emulate my marathon-running neighbor and get up at 5:15 to exercise, the experiment lasted, oh, three days at most. Three terrible, terrible days. Just ask my family.
But guess what? Turns out that getting at least seven hours of sleep is helpful for weight-loss after all, not to mention my personal sanity. And it seems that the need for adequate sleep is even more pronounced in children and teens, affecting everything from weight to school performance to emotional health.
I recently started reading the book Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children and found the section on the consequences of kids’ sleep deprivation particularly important. Among the book’s revelations:
-Children get an hour less sleep a night than they did 30 years ago.
-Studies show that for children “a loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development” (30), causing a sleepy sixth-grader to perform at the level of a fourth grader.
-Children’s sleeping brains are different than adult brains, spending 40% of their asleep time in the “slow-wave,” dreamless stage (ten times the proportion adults spend, at 4%). This “slow-wave” stage is when the things you learned and experienced during the day are synthesized and made concrete. In other words, adequate sleep is key in helping you pass off your times tables. “Tired children can’t remember what they just learned . . . because neurons lose their plasticity, becoming incapable of forming the new synaptic connections necessary to encode a memory” (34).
-Elementary-age kids who get less than eight hours of sleep have about a 300% (yes, three HUNDRED percent) higher rate of obesity than those who get ten hours of sleep. This has to do with hormones, the slow-wave sleep stage and its connection to glucose tolerance, and the common-sense notion that when kids are sleeping they aren’t eating, and if they’re well-rested they’re more likely to be physically active.
-“Several scholars have noted that many hallmark traits of modern adolescence—moodiness, impulsiveness, disengagement—are also symptoms of chronic sleep depravation. Might our culture-wide perception of what it means to be a teenager be unwittingly skewed by the fact they don’t get enough sleep?” (38).
-When Edina, Minnesota changed its high school start time from 7:25 to 8:30, the change affected all students positively, but it affected bright students the most. “In the year preceding the time change, math/verbal SAT scores for the top 10% of Edina’s 1600 students averaged 683/605. A year later, the top 10% averaged 739/761,” a shift that the College Board’s Executive Director called “truly flabbergasting” (36).
-When high schools students drop below eight hours of sleep, the incidence of clinical-level depression doubles.
It’s obvious that not only is sleep incredibly important to me, but it’s even more important to my children. Luckily they’re all nestled snugly. Even my teenager.
It’s me who needs to get my behind in bed. It’s 12:01! If I press “publish” now, I should get at least 6 1/2 hours worth.
What are your sleep needs? Do you find a way to get enough sleep in the midst of your demanding life? What have you given up in order to sleep better? How do you ensure your young kids get enough sleep? Or (heaven help you) your teenagers? Especially if you’re dragging them to early morning seminary (oh, the horror)???