As the school year finally takes on a dependable rhythm — going to school every day, playing weekend soccer games, going to swim lessons/ballet/karate/gymnastics after school or on the weekend, doing homework after dinner — we relax into our fall schedule and hope to get enough sleep to get us through the next day of organized events and responsibilities. The lazy days of summer are really over and Indian Summer just gave us a last hurrah. Now for the seriously busy part of the year! And as fortune would have it the sun sets earlier and it is easier to get our children to bed at a decent hour and hopefully ourselves as well. We need a good night’s sleep to get through our busy schedules, right?
Well not really…a common theme, as the year moves forward, is that most of us are NOT getting enough sleep. Parents are exhausted, children are exhausted, and everyone’s successful functioning on a daily basis begins to suffer.
As a teacher it is evident which children are getting enough sleep to sustain the activity level that the school day requires, not to mention sustaining the energy needed to have busy afterschool events and weekend activities. We often think of children and adults who are not getting enough sleep as being lethargic and having little or no energy, which is easy to spot in a classroom or at home. Yet children will often become overly active, depressed, unable to manage their behavior, and possibly become aggressive because they are not getting adequate rest.
Parents in my classroom are very familiar with my questions about their child’s bedtime, how much sleep they get at night (or within 24 hours) and what their bedtime routine looks like. I have always been a big supporter of early bedtimes for children. As a mother I was aware of how much importance I placed on bedtime when all 3 of my children’s first words were “nigh, nigh!” It was indisputable…sleep was important in my household.
So when I found an opinion piece in the New York Times in April by Vatsal Thakkar entitled “Diagnosing the Wrong Deficit,” I was curious. This article, as it turns out, lays out extensive research about children (and adults) being misdiagnosed as having ADHD/ADD when their issue was actually sleep deprivation. As I read the article and looked at the research described I felt thrilled that my personal opinion was…well…right, or at least vindicated. I was on the right track with scientific study supporting my position.
I would encourage every parent to read this very interesting piece on sleep and the effects of adults and children having too little of it. I only know, with quite a few years of teaching behind me, that sleep can be the simplest solution to a child’s behavior and/or learning difficulties. It is such an easy fix. Obviously not all issues are solved by sleep but the reality is that many issues are created by too few hours of shut-eye. Twelve hours of sleep (in a 24 hour period) for children in preschool is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and only a few less per night as children get older. Adults? We really do need 7 to 8 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. I would encourage every family to make sleep a priority for your family. You may be surprised how much more smoothly your days unfold.