Friday, September 01, 2006

Let kids sleep

When my kids were growing up I felt my job as mom was mainly to attend to the "Physical Plant." That meant, besides the occasional visit to the doctor and the dentist, two things: enough food and enough sleep. I am still amazed when I see people dragging their little kids into the grocery store in the middle of the night. I think many "ADD" cases are simply kids who don't get enough sleep.

Yes, the 7:20 start time in the school district referenced below is horrendous! But I also think we parents are at fault for not having the guts to stand up to teenagers and remind them that if they stay up very late doing I.M. with their friends, they'll fall asleep in class the next day.

Extracts from
Want to Improve Education? Let Kids Sleep
By Stephen Moore for the Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2006

As a father of two teenage boys, I can attest to the fact that the single greatest teen crisis in America is not drugs, alcohol, smoking or early sexual activity, but sleep deprivation.

For the better part of the next nine months my kids will shuffle through the day resembling the zombies from "Night of the Living Dead." The reason that so many kids today appear to be slouching toward Gomorrah is simply that they lack sleep.

Waking teens from their deep REM sleep before 7 a.m. -- which during late fall and winter is well before the rooster crows -- is much like approaching a lion gnawing on an antelope carcass.

Breakfasts from now until June will be as somber as the death row inmate's last meal. We shovel frosted flakes down their throats so that the temporary sugar fix arouses them out of their comatose state long enough to get them out the front door.

When I queried my kids and their friends recently about how they survive on seven hours of sleep a day, they confess that the strategy is to catch up on a few z's during first and second periods at school.

Meanwhile, research overwhelmingly confirms that lack of sleep in adolescents has become a horrendous health problem in America. The National Sleep Foundation finds that teens now average between 6.5 and seven hours of uninterrupted sleep on a weeknight and only one in five gets the recommended nine hours. Of course computer games, chat rooms, sports schedules and the like have a lot to do with the late nights.

But so do their biological clocks. Studies show that spurting growth hormones in teens alter their circadian rhythm and naturally turn them into night owls, physiologically uninterested in 9:30 p.m. bedtimes and fiercely opposed to 6:15 a.m. wake-up calls.

So here is the inevitable ritual: Kids trudge through the week on insufficient sleep, barely limp to the finish line on Fridays, use the weekends to pay off the week's sleep debt by snoozing until noon and then try to readjust their body clocks on Monday morning. Prof. Jim Moss, a sleep expert at Cornell, says: "It's as if at the start of every week our kids have West Coast to East Coast jet lag." He finds that in the early morning classroom "the overwhelming drive to sleep can replace any chance of alertness, cognition, memory or understanding."

Perhaps it's time for a new campaign: This is your teenager's brain; this is your teen's brain (a fried egg) on six hours' sleep.

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At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A recommended 9 hours of sleep? Is that for the teen years?

Seems too much.

I suspect I could've slept through quite a few classes in public school and have missed absolutely nothing.


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