Chapter 1: SLEEP
Could you use a little more sleep? In today’s “go-go-go” society, I think everyone could benefit from a few extra hours of rest. Why is sleep so important? It is a time for your body to repair itself, to take a break from the strains of the upright position, and to integrate all of the experiences that you have had that day.
Enter the lens of physiological design…try to imagine the sleeping habits of our early ancestors. Surely they had fire and could keep the night alive as they pleased, but does it make sense for them to do that? Early survival for our species was like a careful chess game, where every move could mean life or death. Think about it: why would you expend extra energy gathering more wood just so you could stay up late and party?
I propose to you that our ancestors went to bed shortly after the sun went down and arose with the sunrise. It only seems natural that they would have adopted this strategy for survival. Our natural circadian rhythms support this theory! It just makes sense from a survival standpoint.
As mentioned in the introduction, before studying to become a doctor, I was an elementary educator. I spent nine years teaching third and fourth grade to a great group of students. During my tenure I was able to witness first hand the difference in cognition between students who had good sleep patterns and those who did not. You would be surprised at the correlation between learning disabilities and sleep patterns. I could write a book on that point alone.
I was blessed my first two years of teaching to have a brother and sister in my classes who were an absolute joy to teach, Monica and Isaac. The first year Monica was in my class and the next year Isaac followed in her footsteps. As you can imagine I got to know the family very well over those two years, between all of the conferences, awards ceremonies, and informal conversations before and after school. Near the end of the second year I commented to the father about what an honor it had been to teach both of his children. I told him how they both always came into class smiling and happy each day. He then told me the secret ingredient to his parenting success-sleep! He put his kiddos to bed at 6:00 every night, and they slept until 6:00 in the morning faithfully! With twelve hours of rest every night, it is no wonder these two outperformed their peers!
A few years later I had moved from general education to special education. This particular school year I had a young man named Johnny who captured a special place in my heart. Johnny was different; there was no doubt about that. He had several diagnoses and a lot of problems to work through. Often he came in with his hair in a mess, looking tired and grumpy. On those days he would usually have a breakdown mid-morning, crying and screaming. The vice principal would have to come and pull him out of the classroom. Academically, math was especially difficult for him, but he was an excellent reader. Throughout the school year I found ways to relate to him that reading and math were similar in that there was a formula to each subject, and once you mastered the formula it was easy! I really think he just needed someone to believe in him, as is the case with most troubled children. Johnny began to gain confidence as we worked together and by the end of the year he not only passed the state standardized test, he aced it!
Before his success on the test that year, I began to understand the root cause of his problems, which in turn helped me to understand how to help. I arrived early each day to check my emails and set up my classroom, and this day I had received an email from Johnny’s mother. It read, “Dear Mr. Murray, I regret to inform you that Johnny chose to stay up until 2:30 a.m. last night playing video games, so he will probably be very tired today.” My first thought was: why didn’t you go into his room and take the gaming console?!? Instead of arguing with Johnny’s mother I simply replied that I understood, thanked her for letting me know, and told her that I would allow Johnny to rest his head if he needed to. I am not sure what portion of Johnny’s academic problems could be attributed to his lack of sleep, but I know it was a major factor. The point is, get your kids to sleep as early as possible, and get to bed yourself!
Now I understand that families cannot be in bed by 6:00 p.m. every night. After school activities and work schedules can get in the way. Some nights you will get yourself and your kids to bed later than you might like. That being said, I would encourage you to try to get at least 8-12 hours of sleep every night, and if you are not coming close to those numbers, look at ways to do things differently. I have no doubt in my mind that our bodies were designed for at least 8 hours of sleep each night!
The following information is for the person that just can’t seem to find a way to fit in more than 6 hours of sleep Monday-Friday. I understand how hard it can be as a single parent (or even someone in a two-person household) to get the minimum of 8 recommended hours. Scientists say that you can’t catch up on sleep, but I am a scientist and I disagree! In the graduate program at Parker University I took on average 24-26 credit hours each semester. Some days I was on campus 16 hours studying with my classmates, and we had to be back at school at 7:00 a.m. again to take the test! As you can imagine some nights I didn’t get much sleep. Whenever possible I kept Saturday mornings open so that I could sleep in. I would wake up feeling refreshed and reenergized. Although it goes against the scientific data, I recommend catching up on sleep whenever possible. If you don’t get enough during the week try to make time for sleeping in, and naps on the weekend. Physiologically we were designed to get sleep-and plenty of it. Do your best to fit in as many hours as possible.