What’s the Big Deal About Sleep?

There are plenty of parenting moments I wish I could rewind and get a “do over”. Trust me when I say that my kids would tell you that I needed to mellow out and have a little more fun at times. There was one particular area I never gave in about and now I feel a bit vindicated. Bedtime.


As we approach an event that presents itself twice each year for a great deal of us, there is strong evidence supporting the importance of good quality and quantity of sleep. Daylight savings time is a chance to see the profound influence of a bump up or down in quantity of shuteye. Reports nationwide reflect a 24% higher incidence of heart attacks the day after that one hour loss of sleep while a 21% drop in attacks occurred when an hour was added back to our sleep opportunity.


We all are aware of how sleep is an important pillar of health and children need proper sleep for development. Yet, I can’t get over how critical those connections are thanks to the research and writing of Matthew Walker, Ph.D., author of “Why We Sleep”. In fact, the very essence of who we are is altered down to our DNA when we neglect sleep. We age more quickly and experience more difficulty regulating our emotions and reactions to events we encounter in daily life when we shortchange sleep.


Getting regular, full sleep is critical to a child’s developing brain. The patterns of dreaming and deep sleep change as children grow. The adolescent brain undergoes necessary changes that improve the brain’s connectivity. Deep sleep provides what is needed for cognitive maturation in the final phases of development when so many teens skimp on their rest.


One of the many eye opening studies discussed by Dr. Walker include a sleep study in which healthy people were restricted to 6 hours of sleep for one week. Tests afterward revealed distortion of 711 genes in their profile compared to their own profile when given an 8 ½ hour sleep window. Genes responsible for a strong immune system were weakened while those causing cellular stress and inflammation were strengthened. You can probably imagine what a consistent interruption in sleep does for a person over time. Increased risk of cardiovascular problems and a slower metabolism are a couple of health consequences.


Although my own kids are past the time when I can direct them to get a proper night of rest, I am deeply concerned for our youth today. Getting less than the body’s needed sleep does a number on the developing child. Since the pandemic and the shifts in educational delivery, I have noticed adolescents are working more than ever. As schools return to full in-person delivery these students are often shortchanging their rest in an effort to keep up with their “new normal”. This is only one of the many interruptions in sleep that routinely take place for our children.


The vital takeaway is; protecting the sleep of our developing generation is critical to their future genetic makeup and cognitive functioning. Kids walking around with consistent lapses in sleep tend to have shortened attention spans, become irritable easily, and seem forgetful.


If you would like to guide your young person to a healthier night of rest, providing a stimulus free environment and setting up a routine that accompanies settling down for an easier drift off are ideal. Children can learn to protect their own need for sleep early and hopefully that will carry over for a lifetime.


As we approach daylight saving time and every night for that matter, consider giving yourself and your family the gift of full and deep sleep. The temptation to shortchange our own health pulls from all directions, but you are valuable and worthy of that especially important pillar of health.

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