After reading Nurture Shock, a parenting psychology book by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, I felt inclined to share this mind-blowing book with others. The chapter I found most fascinating is called “The Lost Hour” and it discusses the cost of sleep deprivation on developing minds. Bronson and Merryman point out the research showing that children get one less hour of sleep each night than kids did thirty years ago. I’ve always been told that we need an average of 8 hours of sleep but didn’t fully grasp the importance of a full night’s sleep until reading the research presented in this book.
As an adult, I have joked with friends and colleagues about how much more productive I could be if I slept less. The days are too short to get everything done that I need to do. However, the brain needs rest and time to recoup and recharge. This is especially imperative for children. “Sleep scientists have recently been able to isolate and measure the impact of this single lost hour. Because children’s brains are a work in progress until the age of 21, and because much of that work is done while a child is asleep, this lost hour appears to have an exponential impact on children that is simply doesn’t have on adults. A few scientists theorize that sleep problems during formative years can cause permanent changes in a child’s brain structure- damage that one can’t sleep off like a hangover.”
So, why aren’t children getting the sleep they need? Benson and Merryman site overscheduling, televisions and other electronics in children’s bedrooms, lack of bedtime routine, and other issues. Children today tend to have busier schedules than I do, so in order to participate in all their activities and complete homework, sleep is sacrificed.
There is a connection between lack of sleep and learning disabilities, such as ADHD. “The surprise is not merely that sleep matters– but how much it matters…to phenomena that we assumed to be entirely unrelated, such as the international obesity epidemic and the rise of ADHD.” Sleep deprivation affects academic success because “a tired brain perseverates- it gets stuck on a wrong answer and can’t come up with a more creative solution, repeatedly returning to the same answer it already knows is erroneous.” Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Sleep loss affects behavior, too. When you don’t get enough rest, your body struggles to extract glucose from the bloodstream. Glucose is the brain’s source of energy and guess which part of the brain suffers the most? That’s right—the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for our executive functioning. That means our children are less likely to make good choices, follow through on a task, perceive consequences of their actions, create abstract goals and have any sort of impulse control.
As teachers, we have 7-8 hours a day, five days a week, to try and put as much information as possible into our students without pressing too hard or stressing their developing minds. It is imperative for our students to maximize their cognitive function and for that they need a well-rested brain. Let’s try and get back to a full night’s sleep and help our children reach their full potential!