Listen to this episode

Sleep Deprivation 2

Air Date: 10/26/10 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723, or at of you who listen to this commentary from time to time will know that I don't normally recommend products or books. But I've been reading a book that I think all parents and teachers should take a look at, for a number of reasons. That book is "NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children" by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Bronson and Merryman identify a number of assumptions and deeply-held beliefs that adults have about children such as the belief that praise is good, that ignoring race will encourage kids to see everyone the same way, or that kids don't lie (and that parents can tell when they do) and then explode those beliefs with research and facts. It's fascinating reading and I highly recommend it but one fact and the accompanying research are particularly troubling. Here it is: children today get an average of one hour less sleep each night than they did 30 years ago. And that lost hour is creating huge challenges. Among the kids I've worked with, insomnia and sleep deprivation are almost a badge of honor. It means they're studying late, involved in important activities, and connected to friends, often well past the point when they should have checked out and fallen asleep. Bronson and Merryman quote studies by the National Sleep Foundation showing that 90% of American parents think their child is getting enough sleep. The kids, however, know otherwise. Sixty percent of high schoolers report extreme daytime sleepiness. A quarter admit their grades have dropped because of it. As many as 33% are dozing off in class at least once a week. Most adolescents these days get about seven hours of sleep on weeknights, even though the experts tell us they need at least eight and as many as nine hours to stay healthy and alert. The reasons for this loss of sleep are numerous: kids are up doing homework, at sports practices, or texting friends in the dark. Most kids these days set their own bedtimes, and even preschoolers frequently fall asleep on the floor in front of the television. We know that adolescents' sleep cycles shift by an hour or two, so that they can't fall asleep until later and need to sleep in to compensate. School schedules are unrelenting, however: my own son had AP Physics at seven a.m., when there was no bus service available; I worried constantly about him driving to school. And if you're barely able to gulp down some breakfast and drive to school, how can you absorb physics? A number of respected experts believe that sleep deprivation which has been used for centuries as a form of torture, by the way may be at least partly responsible for the epidemic of ADHD, depression, moodiness, and even obesity: elementary school students who get less than eight hours of sleep have about a 300% higher rate of obesity than those who get the ten hours they really need. Learning suffers, too: one study found that the loss of an hour's sleep caused sixth graders to perform at a fourth grade level. Lack of sleep may result in lost points on IQ tests. It turns out that even 15 minutes of lost sleep may make a difference. Children's sleep is different than adults'. Remember, children's brains are still growing and maturing and when a child doesn't get enough sleep, learning, processing, and growth can't happen the way they're supposed to. So what should you do? Well, this is an excellent opportunity to act like a parent. Kids younger than 12 or so need 10 hours of sleep each night; teens need 9, or 8 at the very least. If you have a young child, this is your responsibility. Set a bedtime that allows your child enough sleep, and create a bedtime routine together that allows time for connection, cuddling, and conversation. Then turn off the TV, confiscate the cell phone, and turn out the light. Teens are almost adults, so they need to understand the importance of sleep and manage it for themselves. Unfortunately, schools and employers often expect teens to burn the midnight oil, and their friends' drama can occur all night long. Parents can help by teaching teens about the importance of sleep, by understanding changes in their sleep cycle, and by sticking up for their kid when necessary with teachers, coaches, and employers. Be kind and firm at the same time, but make sure your child knows that sleep is important and that her health comes first. We live in a fast-paced world, and it doesn't look like it will change anytime soon. If we can't change the world, we need to change our approach. Teach your kids good sleep habits, and model them yourself. It will make a world of difference. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.