It’s time to stop settling for bad sleep and insufficient sleep.
I spend a lot of time thinking about sleep. My sleep, my kid’s sleep, my wife’s sleep. Everybody does. I also have the privilege of working with families who are struggling with sleep problems. As a result, I’ve developed some pretty strong feelings about what parents and kids need to do to sleep well.
Let me summarize what I think about sleep:
Kids and parents deserve to get a good night of sleep. Every night. This means that everyone should get adequate, uninterrupted sleep. We as as society need to make this a priority. How are we going to achieve this goal?
- We need to educate parents and families about how much kids sleep need, and how to get it.
- Parents need to recognize that it is not selfish to work on improving their child’s sleep.
- Sleep-friendly school policies, specifically later school start times, are critical for the health and well being of our children.
There was a recent study about the “parental happiness gap”: the fact that people with kids are less happy than similar people without kids. I find this sad but unsurprising. I love my kids more than anything, but man, I get pretty run down sometimes. Parenting has become much more complicated than it used to be. The cost of living is higher. Kids do a lot more stuff (way too much stuff, in my opinion). Working parents, stay-at-home parents, single-parent families, two-parent families, blended families: everyone has a lot to juggle. As Louie CK memorably said, “everything is amazing and no one is happy”
I think one of the reasons that families are struggling is because sleep is no longer a priority. Parents are so worried about hurting their kids that they avoid sleep training because they have been told (wrongly) that that will harm their child. Devices have invaded our bedrooms and our mental space. And many elementary school kids are doing 3-4 activities a week out of school. And, unbelievably, there is pressure for kids to do more and more homework, even though the benefit of homework is controversial. Over 90% of teenagers are sleep deprived, due to inappropriately early school start times. Change is not easy, but it is essential for our health, as well as the health and well being of our children.
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep.
Sleeping is like breathing or eating. But we routinely tolerate inadequate sleep in ourselves and our children. Did I mention that 90% of teens are sleep deprived? Imagine if 90% of the children in your community didn’t have enough to eat. Or 90% were exposed to toxic chemicals that made it difficult for you to breathe. You would be mad as hell. Where is the outrage about heavy homework loads, inappropriately early school start times, or junior high students being up all night on their cell phones? It’s strange to me that the idea that kids get sufficient sleep is controversial.
Back in 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that no schools should start before 8:30 AM. Here’s an a list the authors put together of the consequences of sleep deprivation for teenagers. Note that many of these are true for adults and some are true for young children as well:
I’m also mad that many in the attachment parenting community have convinced parents that sleep training is dangerous, when nothing could be further from the truth. You know what is dangerous? An exhausted mom or dad behind the wheel of a car driving their kids around. Drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. We all know drunk driving is bad, but when did you last drive drowsy?
What happens you get enough sleep?
Imagine I invented a new medication. Let’s call it vitamin Z. If you take it, you’ll have more energy and be more successful at work. You’ll be a safer driver. You won’t crave unhealthy foods as much. Heck, you’ll even look better. If your kids take it, they will not fight as much. They will be less hyperactive in school and do better on tests. Teenagers will be less argumentative and more motivated. They will also be less likely to use alcohol or drugs, get injured in sports, commit suicide, or get in a car accident.
Let me tell you a few other things about vitamin Z. It’s free. It has no side effects. Guess what else: these are the benefits of getting a good night sleep. .
So what are you going to do?
I challenge you to pick one thing that will help your family sleep better. Institute a strict policy about electronics in the bedroom. Make sure that kids’ activities don’t keep them out too late. Be really strict about bedtime.
Perhaps everyone in your home is well rested. Then advocate for later school start times for the students in your high school. As for me, I’m going to try to go to bed by 11 PM, or even 10:30 if I can. What are you going to do? Let me know in the comments.
If you find this interesting, check out my 28 Rules for Better Sleep.