Get Some Sleep
In the interest of getting stuff done I sometimes stay up past my bedtime. I know I’m going to pay for it eventually, but sometimes there is no choice; I have to work. Adults can get away with that sort of thinking – for a little while. We can do it because our brains are fully developed and they bounce back to pre sleep-deprived status after enough rest. Sure, productivity slips and the effort required to get even simple tasks done increases exponentially with every passing hour past bedtime. But, it can be done. That is not the case with kids. Kids who don’t get enough sleep risk serious developmental issues. Sleep deprivation in kids has been linked to lower IQ, obesity and ADD. How to ensure our kids are getting enough sleep is, in theory, really easy. Let them sleep until they wake up. Let them nap when they need to nap. Here comes the research.
Dr. Avi Sadeh at Tel Aviv University has done research into the affects of sleep deprivation on school aged kids. In one of his more eye opening experiments he sent 77 4th graders and 6th graders home with random instructions. Half of the kids (randomly selected) were told to go to bed half an hour later than usual and the other half were told to turn in half an hour earlier ( 1 hour difference). The children were each given actigraph units which electronically measure real sleeping time. The prep lasted 3 days and, at the end of those three days, the kids were given a version of the Wechsler IQ test. The results showed that one hour difference in sleep is equivalent to 2 grade levels of neural biological functioning. 6th graders with one less sleep than usual performed at the level of 4th graders! Not only that but the research indicates that the effects of sleep deprivation can be cumulative and irreversible if left unchecked through adolescence.
Another test was done by the University of Minnesota’s Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom who found that Minnesota high schoolers with A averages in school averaged 15 more minutes of sleep than the their C level peers. An identical test was done by Brown University of 3,000 Rhode Island high schoolers in which the results were the same. It’s hard to believe that 15 minutes can make much difference. Two separate studies say it does make a difference, a big difference.
Television is not to blame for obesity despite everything we’ve been told. The University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Elizabeth Vanderwater did some digging and found an ongoing survey by the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. The survey has followed 8,000 families since 1968 and clearly shows that obese kids watch no more television than their more fit counterparts. Vanderwater states that media “… is not the smoking gun we assumed it to be.” Instead, she found something else. While studying the data she discovered that kids who weren’t watching TV weren’t getting any more physical activity than those who were. In other words, when not watching television kids are doing something else that is equally sedentary. In fact, kids watch only 7 minutes more television today on average than they did in the 1970′s. It’s time management that is making kids fat, not television. Less sleep is to blame.
The big leap in obesity rates in kids happened in the mid 80′s. And, the research shows that the culprit is not video games or television. It’s lack of sleep. Kids trade sleep time for sedentary activities and the result is that kids who get less than 8 hours of sleep per night have a 300% higher rate of obesity than those kids who get 8 or more hours. It’s a snowballing problem because people who don’t sleep enough also don’t have the energy to exercise.
The research is clear. Sleep is important for cognitive functioning as well as controlling obesity. The solution, while apparently simple, is not as easy as putting kids to bed earlier. We need to cut down on their structured activities and school obligations and give them more freedom to relax and sleep. It might seem counter intuitive that less school work could result in better grades, but if schoolwork is getting in the way of sleep then that is exactly the conclusion I am making. On the other hand, if video games or sitting around doing nothing like a big fat slob are getting in the way of sleep then those things need to be adjusted. The danger though with having kids too active is that they won’t be able to decompress from the day to actually get the required sleep. My solution is fewer activities and obligations. The results of that should be less stress and more sleep, but that’s just my interpretation of the data. Either way we slice it we know that our kids need their sleep.
Read Nurture Shock by Po Bronson for a complete list of research and notes.