Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sleep, Perchance to Dream…

Alright, let’s talk about sleep. Sleep is one of the most important requirements children have in order to function properly. It also one of the most lacking in today’s rushed, disconnected, plugged-in culture.

I have thought of a couple analogies to help parents and children understand just how important sleep is and how difficult it is to function with less than optimal sleep.

First, imagine a car driving with only three tires. Can it still function? Yes. Can it still function well? No. Can it maneuver deftly in difficult situations? Not at all. This is what it is like trying to function with insufficient sleep.

Second, imagine playing basketball with two fingers gone. Someone could argue, “Well, you’ve got 8; that should be plenty!” But no one in their right mind would suggest such a thing, because we know that 10 is far better than 8. It’s the same with sleep. The vast majority of children in elementary school require about 10 hours of regular sleep (about 11 hours for First Graders and 9 hours for 8th Graders). Getting only 8 hours might not seem like a big deal, but it is.

Children cannot take sleep deprivation in stride like adults. First, they do not have the benefit of Starbucks. Second, their brains and bodies are growing and therefore require production of growth hormone, the majority of which is produced in the latter hours of sleep. Third, children do not tend to have the insight into their own emotional condition in order to “pick themselves up” or separate sleep-deprived crabbiness from real-life frustration.

Here are some signs that your child is likely sleep-deprived*:

• Your child must be awakened in the morning.
• When allowed to sleep in the morning, your child sleeps more than a half hour longer.
• Your child falls asleep as soon as she begins an automobile ride.
• Your child is frequently cranky or whiny.
• Your child has numerous temper tantrums.
• It is hard to describe your child as generally happy.
• Your child wants to carry a special stuffed toy or blanket much of the time.
• You frequently find your child sucking his thumb.
• Your child often wakes at night with leg or foot pains.
• Your child has what appear to be nightmares.
• Your child has severe afternoon or evening headaches that may be accompanied by vomiting.
• Your child seems distractible or hyperactive at times, usually in the late morning or late afternoon.
• Despite doing well in grade school, grades begin to fall in middle or high school.
• Your child frequently says he/she is tired.

In my next post, I will discuss how to give your child ideal sleep quality and quantity.

*Taken from Is My Child Overtired by Will Wilkoff, M.D.

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