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Sleep is critical - for children and adults

  • Published
  • By Linda Ambard
  • Kadena Air Force Base

Routines play an important part in mental health. One routine people often overlook when they have coping problems, depression, weight issues, behavior changes, or decreased athletic performance, is sleep. I personally struggled for many years to find balance and routine regarding sleep because I am afraid of missing something – I get caught up in checking my phone at night.

As I age, the bathroom runs further erode my uninterrupted sleep, but I have learned it is something people should think about.
One of the biggest lessons I learned as a collegiate runner was the body’s need for sleep to perform optimally. At 17, I was a full-time college student who carried 18 to 21 credits, worked 20 or 30 hours a week, ran indoor and outdoor track and cross country, and I had an active social life. I wanted it all.

Sleep could wait…or so I thought. It wasn’t until I couldn’t recover from a routine case of mononucleosis, my brain seemed unable to retain information for finals, and my running stalled that I finally got it.

People need sleep. Sleep impacts health, weight, memory, performance, and mood, and makes a big difference in anxiety and ability to solve problems.

Some surprising facts about sleep:
1. There are more car accidents the Monday after the spring daylight-savings time clock change than any other day.
2. Relaxing classical music helps a person sleep.
3. When suffering from depression, a person dreams three to four times more than normal.
4. Vivid reams or nightmares may be an early warning sign to different health conditions such as heart problems and migraines. Violent dreams can be an early sign of dementia.
5. People who procrastinate are more likely to have problems with sleep.
6. Sleeping under a weighted blanket can improve sleep and has been proven to help insomniacs and those with anxiety.
7. Cool your room to 60-67 for best quality sleep.
8. Having regular massage is shown to improve sleep.
9. Regular physical exercise can help a person sleep better and sleep helps athletic performance and recovery.
10. Yoga is proven to help sleep.
11. Meditation/mindfulness has been shown to help sleep.
12. Certain cancers and medical conditions are linked to poor sleep.
13. Creative people sleep more, but not as well.
14. Parents of newborn babies lose six months’ worth of sleep in the first two years of life.
15. If it takes you less than five minutes to fall asleep, you are sleep-deprived.
16. Two-thirds of high school students get less than eight hours of sleep a night. Teens need about nine hours of sleep a night, due to hormonal and body changes.
17. The military uses more energy drinks than any other organization.
18. Three-quarters of those with depression also have sleep problems.
19. One sleepless night affects your brain the same way as being drunk.
20. People who sleep less than seven hours a night are 12% more likely to die prematurely.
21. Morning people are more likely to be successful in their careers.
22. Lastly, a person can survive for about 60 days without food, but people can only survive about 11 days without sleeping.

What do all of these statistics and facts mean? Frankly, most all of us need to put some effort into sleep hygiene. Attached to this article is a sleep hygiene sheet. Yes, it is hard to maintain a normal sleep schedule when one works shift work, but it comes down to balance. If a person wants to perform optimally, learn quicker, regulate weight, or mood regulate, sleep must be considered.

As parents, we have some say so in this when our children are in the house.

My oldest son Patrick was a sleep-deprived mother’s nightmare. At six months, he stopped taking naps. The pediatrician told me that I needed to show him who the boss was, so I put him in his crib – where he screamed and kicked the crib repeatedly until he broke the crib.

When Patrick was eight months old, I put the crib mattress on the floor. He used his teeth and hands to remove the sheet and chew holes in the baby mattress. I decided to lie down with him at nap time when he was 11 months old. Guess who fell asleep while Patrick pinged all over?

One day I realized that Patrick woke up every day before 6 a.m. He went like crazy all day long, but at about 7 p.m., he slowed down. If I didn’t put him to bed, he would get a second wind and run with a naughty frenzied energy. I found the key.

I shifted my thoughts from what I thought should happen to figuring out what worked for my child (children). That schedule was sacrosanct because it gave me a few hours a day to get other things done. I shifted to an early dinner, bath, and then stories in bed. I read to my children for an hour every night (is it any wonder they all read between 3 and 4 years old?).

When I finished, Patrick (and then his siblings) had a choice: read in bed for 30 minutes before lights out, or have lights out. There were no other choices. If he got out of bed, the choice was lights out. It sounds harsh, but it removed the bedtime battles because he felt like he was winning. The consistent bedtimes led to less fights over behavior. How did it work out? Well, Patrick became one of those really easy children who grew up to be an Air Force pediatric doctor with children of his own.

I think that as children grow up, parents get lulled into thinking the child needs less sleep. The reality is the teens need almost as much sleep as an infant due to physical and hormonal changes.

For me, high school was a tough time because my children were so active and involved in everything. They were also very, very good students. While every attempt was made for a 10 p.m. bedtime, it didn’t always happen. The rule in my house, however, was school, sports/scouts, shower, dinner and then homework. Weekends were for working ahead so that the crazy nights weren’t so crazy. Work hard, play hard was the family rule.

In other words, when the children had down time, we strove to make it as fun and memorable as possible. Routine and role modeling help chart a youth on a positive journey. Perhaps removing electronics from all bedrooms will help everyone’s sleep? Perhaps setting standard bedtime (10 p.m. during the week; 11 p.m. on the weekends) will help your youth get the sleep they need.

Yes, life happens. There will always be a special event, a pressing school project, a family event, or an emergency, but the key is consistency. My Garmin tracks my sleep patterns, but a simple sleep diary will do the same. Chart your sleep. Consider a weighted blanket and blackout shades. Allow yourself 30 minutes of mindful activity such as listening to music, reading, or meditating. The level of energy will amaze you and your athletic performance will improve – I promise!