Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | Dec 6, 2013 11:03 AM

"Let's begin by taking a smallish nap or two."(Winnie the Pooh, created by A. A. Milne)

The other day, my teenage daughter appeared in my bedroom doorway around the time she was supposed to be getting up for school. "Can I just go back to sleep?"

A quick consultation verified that she had a study hall first period, so with a clear conscience, I sent her back to bed for an hour (and grabbed a little more shut-eye myself), then dropped her off at school in time for second period. 

Given the choice between sleep and study hall, the decision was an easy one. Had she had a different first period class, she'd have probably dragged herself to school, exhausted or not. And I would probably have encouraged it.

Which got me thinking. When did school -- or at least just one class period of it -- become more important than sleep?

Having spent 27 years working in public education, I’m usually the first to defend the importance of getting to school regularly and on time. But as a parent, I have to wonder if it’s really such a big deal if a tired kid gets a little more sleep and shows up at school late every once in a while. 

Sleep is not a luxury, nor is it something we should be bragging about not getting enough of. Sleep deprivation has been linked to everything from obesity to cancer. And, not least of all, sufficient sleep plays a key role in school success:

Studies show that a good night's sleep improves learning. Whether you're learning math, how to play the piano, how to perfect your golf swing, or how to drive a car, sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative.

According to a recent study done at the University of Rochester Medical Center, sleep also provides our brains with an opportunity to clear out the mental clutter we accumulate during the day. If studies done on mice can be applied to humans, it turns out that our brains quite literally take out the neural trash while we sleep, clearing space for better, more efficient processing when we awaken. 

Fortunately for my daughter, I had just shared this study with my (exhausted) college students. I was well-versed on the benefits of sleep, despite the fact that I often fail to practice what I preach, and so when I told my daughter to go back to bed, I knew knowledge and logic were on my side. Her reputation as a conscientious student who rarely makes this sort of request didn’t hurt either.

And I was grateful to be able to afford her this option, though I know many parents are not so fortunate. For years, I, like most parents, had to hustle her out the door (tired or not, sick or not) so I could get to work.

So often, we bow to social pressure when it comes to our kids, letting our concerns about how we’ll look outweigh our better judgment. We won’t always have read the latest research or made ourselves aware of what the experts say when it comes time to make a decision, and all we’ll have to go on is our better judgment.

And while there are plenty of days when hindsight tells me my better judgment wasn’t so terrific, when I make a decision based on keeping my daughter’s mind and body safe and sound, I rarely regret it. And if I sometimes look like a less-than-stellar employee or parent because of it, so be it.

Because not every day allows for a smallish nap or two.

For more information on sleep at all ages, check out the following links:

The Benefits of Slumber

Perfecting Your Child's Bedtime Routine

Teens, Sleep and Parental Support

What Kids Say About Sleep

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