Sleep. So Hot Right Now.

I presented this evening on the power of sleep for children and learning at one of my schools. Inadvertently, I became my own case study this week on the effects of lack of sleep. I got little sleep this weekend because of a holiday party on one night, and then getting up at 5am on Sunday morning to get to the Antique Faire. I know, I’m psycho. But all the good mid-century modern stuff goes in the first hour. Early bird gets the Hans Wagner wingback chair that looks like Dr. Evil would sit it in. Mwa ha ha.

This week at school, I have gotten terrible sleep as well. One night, my 80 lb dog was all up on my side of the bed and I was cramped all night. Another night, I slept like junk because of an ill-fated decision to have a Mocha Milan Latte at 5pm the night before. And so, I am functioning poorly this week. My symptoms are masquarding as ADHD–Inattentive Type: trouble initiating tasks, poor task persistence, faulty executive functioning (yes, came to school today without my lunch and the test protocol I needed), and irritability/restlessness. This is after only 3 nights of poor sleep. Can you imagine the impairment if it’s habitual?*

Apparently, kids get about one hour less of sleep than they did 40 years ago. And apparently, 90% of parents think their kids are getting enough sleep and they are not. Here’s the recommended amount for preschool children through adolescence, per the National Sleep Foundation:

Toddlers (age 1-3): 12-14 hours in a 24 hour period (naps count)
Preschoolers (ages 3-5): 11-13 hours
School Aged Children (ages 5-12): 10-11 hours
Teenagers (13+): 9-10 hours.

I know for sure that the teenagers I work are not rockin’ 10 hours of sleep a night, that’s for sure. The reason I know this is before I test them, I always ask when they went to bed the night before and when they got up. The reason I do this is because the research is so clear that even a little sleep debt or depravation affects you in the following ways:**

1) Learning is consolidated and enhanced during sleep. Kids with more sleep have higher grades, and higher IQs. Even 15 minutes more sleep makes a difference. Kids are terrible at estimating their sleepiness too. Their cognitive scores are lower even if they claim they got enough sleep.

I see sleepy kids trying to learn all the time. One the other day wrote a sentence from the prompt “Write a sentence with the word ‘as’ ” that read: “I am as sleepy as a sloth.” For the word “of” he wrote, “All I can think of is sleep.” Some kids straight up put their heads down. I have had kids stay up all night doing work, or taking care of newborn siblings.*** The cumulative effect is that they don’t learn as much. Kids need their sleep to learn. Just ask my little poppit in the Spanish immersion program who wanted to call the fire marshall to shut down school so he could go home and get a nap.

2) Lack of sleep may cause depression. Think how you are after having poor sleep. I’m guessing if you’re like me, you’re not Miss Mary Sunshine. There can be reasons for this–emotionally laden memories are stored when we sleep. Positive memories are processed in the hippocampus and negative in the amygdala. Lack of sleep causes impairment in storing memories in the hippocampus. So guess what? We file away bad memories more often than good when we are sleep deprived. I have teenagers I work with who I swear would not be as depressed if they got more sleep.

3) Lack of sleep makes you have symptoms of ADHD. Um yeah, my case study above (n=1) proves this. Plus, studies show that sleep loss debilitates the body’s ability to extract glucose from the bloodstream. Without this stream of basic energy, one part of the brain suffers more than the rest–you guessed it–the prefrontal cortex. The one that helps you with executive functions–planning, organizing, attending, and sustaining effort.

4)Sleep loss makes kids fat. Obesity increases 80% for each hour of lost sleep. Kids with less than 8 hours sleep have a 300% higher rate of obesity than those who get 10. Yikes! Sleep loss triggers hunger and stress hormones. No wonder after my 3-day sleep debt I kept going for the wheat thins all day.

I think I’m going to start adding the recommended sleep hours to my list of recommendations at the end of my reports. It seems that would help learning and mood right away.

I also think I’m still in sleep debt from earlier in the week. So now if someone could call the fire marshall and shut down my computer, that would be great. I need a nap…

*”YES!!!” exclaims anyone with an infant child. Three exclamation points.
**From Nurture Shock, Chapter Two: The Lost Hour
***Yeah, I called the parents on that one. Please don’t give your 12 year old the 12-2am feeding slot for your newborn.

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Comments on Sleep. So Hot Right Now.

  1. Your post could not have been more timely! My 9 year old and I were arguing last night because he wanted to stay up and finish his homework (I didn't have this much homework when I was in high school, it seems!) while I wanted him to go to bed. Once I promised to let his teacher know it was MY decision that sleep was to be the priority he went to bed. Thanks for backing me up! 🙂

  2. Aimee says:

    I agree on the timeliness of this post! I'm consulting with a teacher very frequently about a kindergarten boy whose behavior is a bit on the out of control side. After talking to his mom, I discovered that he's gone to be between 10:00-10:30pm every night this week (mom was having "parties" that went late). Ummm, I think I just found one of the main reasons for his tantruming.

  3. Angela says:

    Great post! I read an interesting article a few weeks ago about how we can 'store up' sleep. (Something like this: http://thepublichealthcarejournal.wordpress.com/2010/02/19/store-up-on-sleep-you-can-use-it-later/) Basically, if you sleep extra for a few days, you can bank your sleep to make yourself more resilient on upcoming nights when you'll be sleeping less.

    I recently switched to getting at least 9 hours of sleep a night at least 4 nights a week. (The other nights I usually end up with about 6 hours–I try for more, but it doesn't usually happen.) I function sooo much better on 9 hours, and on the 6 hour nights, I still feel just as good (because I've stored up the sleep?). Since my body won't let me nap, getting a good night's rest is critical for me.

  4. Morayo says:

    From God's lips to your keyboard! I am having the darndest time with one of my students who is getting so little sleep, that he not only has to get cold water splashed on him in the morning to wake up, he's also coming in late to school 4 out of 5 days each week. The stats you provided should hopefully help me convince mom that instead of splashing water, we could remove the television from the room until a better sleep schedule has been established… or perhaps forever – which ever works!

  5. Plummy says:

    Great post! Several of the kids I work with get far less sleep than they should, which drives me crazy!

  6. Our school system has elementary schools starting at 8:30-9:05am while my teenager's bus arrives at 6:15 for his middle school's 7:20am bell. If only we could get our school bells in better sync with age-appropriate sleep cycles.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Wow, that was a great blog post. Our school starts at 7:00 (elem-mid) and I think that's too early for anybody to be there. I usually schedule a 20 minute "read-aloud" after lunch and recess. I turn off the lights and make them put their heads down. If they fall asleep, no harm/no foul. I find that they perform better afterward. Hey, it's only 20 minutes!

  8. Anonymous says:

    My little Asperger's student (I teach regular ed, but he's with me full time) had a terrible time at the beginning of the year. Finally we realized he was losing approximately 2 hours of sleep per night (due to his transfer to our school that starts waaay earlier than his former school) and his schedule was adjusted, EVERYTHING improved.
    Oh my, what an interesting, fascinating blog post! Thank you so much!

  9. Joe Murray says:

    I would thank you or the timeliness as wel but it appears I'm reading this almost a year after you wrote it.

    Yet it remains timely – it's parent conference week and our 8yr old second grader seems to be losing focus. Thus our discovery of your blog.

    I wanted to add, that in addition to sleep, that we prepare for sleep. A ritual if you will. And a big part of this is cutting off screens at least an hour before bedtime. TV, computers, DSi, etc.

    Any thoughts on this?

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