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.