Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring Forward... Lose sleep...

As we move our clocks forward to increase the number of daylight hours, we all lose one hour of sleep.  In the whole scheme of things, this isn't much. Most people (kids and adults) lose needed sleep every night.  Only 8% of teens get the recommended amount of sleep.  Eight percent!  No wonder they have increasing rates of so many problems.

Last night I watched "Race to Nowhere" a documentary of the pressures placed on our kids today.  Kids feel pressure to do well in school (many while taking an overload of AP classes), leading to many hours of homework each night.  They participate in sports, which takes up valuable time after school away from homework, but does help them exercise and do something they enjoy (until they burn out and don't like it anymore). They feel the need to do community service and join clubs to build their portfolio to get into a great college.

While I think the film was developed with an agenda and not every kid is suffering from overload, I certainly see enough teens (and preteens) who seem to suffer from sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, stress, and more.  Are these kids simply not using time efficiently?  Even the documentary showed one of the troubled teens doing homework with her cell phone right there and texting interrupting her thought.
Maybe a quick break after school to play outside for 30 minutes will help release energy and allow the brain focus to study.  Then turn off the tv and put the phone in another room and get to work.  My question: Are these kids spending 6 hours doing 1 hour worth of work?  
Interesting point made in the film though: Studies show that as the amount of homework assigned decreases, test scores increase.

Are we setting our kids up for failure from the beginning? Research shows that kids under 3 years who watch tv have higher incidences of ADHD and aggression along with lower cognitive development.  Kids with ADHD take longer to do tasks because they do not focus and concentrate until the task is complete.  They often need to re-read or re-do work because they miss concepts.  They can suffer from poor self esteem and increased rates of depression because they feel like failures.  In the short video below Dr. Dimitri Christakis explains how researchers are learning about the influences of stimulations (too little and too much) on learning and development.  Take 16 minutes to watch it!

Past growth and development cannot be changed, but we can improve current growth and development.  Maximizing nutrition, healthy exercise, and sleep can help the body and brain be its best.

Kids and teens are staying up too late (sometimes all night) to finish homework.  They are tired during class so take caffeine or other stimulants (such as those used to treat ADHD without a prescription) to stay awake.  They are too tired to focus in class, so they perform below their knowledge on tests.  Between 7-12 years old, kids need 10-11 hours of sleep every night.  Teens need 8-9 hours, sometimes more during rapid growth spurts.

Kids who once enjoyed a favorite sport feel the pressure from coach to train more, but the demands of school put the kids in a quandry: they need to make grades to play, but they don't have time after practice to do the homework.  Often practice and game times are late in the evening, making it hard for kids to fall to sleep at a normal bedtime, since the body needs about 2 hours after exercise to fall to sleep.  I have blogged on this before here.

I see many kids and teens who have chronic headaches or other symptoms that are likely due to sleep deprivation, but they insist it is something else and they want the million dollar workup to find a cause and expensive medications to treat the symptoms.  Once symptoms have started, they might need more treatments, but beginning with healthy nutrition, exercise, and sleep might prevent many of these problems!

The fear of failure and pressure to succeed is leading to kids trying anything to succeed, not just staying up late and drinking too much caffeine.  Cheating in schools, such as copying homework, plagiarizing, or cheating on a test is becoming commonplace. The large majority of high school students admit to cheating.  What does this mean for our future society if kids learn to cheat the system to succeed?

Kids who are chronically sleep deprived are at risk of physically hurting themselves due to slowed reaction times, concentration and focus failures, and difficulty processing information (much like being under the influence of drugs or alcohol).  They are more likely to be injured while playing their sport. Drivers are more likely to be in a car accident.  Drivers 16-24 years of age are the most likely to report falling to sleep at the wheel in the past year according to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.  Also in this study, people who sleep 6-7 hours a night are twice as likely to be in an accident as those sleeping 8 hours or more.  People sleeping less than 5 hours increase their risk 4-5 times!

How can we all wake up rested and still get everything done each day?  What can we cut back on with our families?  There are initiatives to get schools to enforce less homework and to start later, but until then, what can YOU do to help your kids get the sleep they need?

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