Are Your Kids Getting Enough Sleep?
It seems like each year as our kids get older there are more and more opportunities – in sports, music, at school, with friends. But how much is too much? When does highly-scheduled become over-scheduled? One indicator, various researchers and pediatricians have suggested, is whether it affects our kids’ sleep. If they have a hard time either falling asleep at night or getting up in the morning, they are probably over-scheduled and under-slept to a degree that could be harming their development. If they’re falling asleep with difficulty, it could be because they are stressed, have spent too much time on a screen (TV, computer, phone, each of which stimulates a part of the brain that takes a long time to settle down), or are hyper-tired (so tired it’s actually hard to fall asleep). If they can’t wake up in the morning, it’s a sure sign that they’re not getting enough rest. The body actually has a natural alarm clock – it wakes us when we’re rested.
Ultimately, it turns out, sleep deprivation is not only a sign of being over-scheduled but also a perilous condition in and of itself. Few articles delve into the problems of sleep deprivation more clearly than this 2007 piece by Po Bronson: “Snooze or Lose.” Bronson, author (with Ashley Merryman) of Nurture Shock and numerous articles on parenting, catalogues the various problems that can come from lack of sleep and offers suggestions for helping kids get more rest (see, in particular, the side bar link to an article by Merryman).
Despite all of Bronson’s helpful research and good advice, however, the cure to the sleep deprivation-epidemic that pediatricians say is afflicting our children rests with us, their parents. In particular, it pivots on how we answer a single question – is it worth skipping certain opportunities for our kids so that they can consistently get a good night’s rest? I don’t know about you, but somewhere I got the idea that I should pursue every opportunity available to my children. The 11th Commandment for many of us seems to be “Thou shalt not deprive your children!” Yet sometimes I wonder if this has been a helpful rule for them or for me. After hours of driving from activity to activity, we’re all, well, pretty darn tired. I didn’t have nearly the opportunities as a kid that they do, yet somehow turned out okay (or at least reasonably so). Is it because I didn’t have their opportunities that I want them to have so many? Or have I simply fallen prey to one more element of our culture’s insistence that they key to happiness is more, more, and still more?
I don’t know, but I do know that after reading Bronson’s article on the importance of sleep, it helped me make some decisions – or, really, pass up some opportunities – so that we could all get a little more sleep. Which doesn’t mean we have it all figured out. We’ve missed some things, for the sake of sleep, that I wish we had stayed up for. And from time to time we’ve stayed up late and it wasn’t worth it. Nor is the post meant to induce any guilt. Parents have enough of that already! Rather, it’s to give us a chance to talk about how to balance sleep and opportunity and all the rest and find a way to support each other in doing it.
Let me know what you think about Bronson’s article, the larger issue, and any experiences you’ve had. But in the meantime, don’t stay up too late reading!