“It’s Better for Kids” and The Lost Hour in Nurture Shock

I’m continuing to read Nurture Shock, and I’m now on Chapter Two – The Lost Hour.

But before I do, I have to tell you about an experience in Aldi’s the other day. It was a weekday, of course. Emily began to talk to the elderly couple behind us, as is her way. Because she tends to use bigger words (a by-product of having million-dollar, multi-syllable word me for a mother) people are often convinced she is a year or two older than her actual age. So the inevitable question occurs…”What grade are you in school?” (i.e. why aren’t you in school right now?)

Emily answered the question promptly, “I’m in Kindergarten, but I’m homeschooled.” she paused for a moment, “It’s better for the kids, you know.”

I swear to you I am not constantly bombarding my child with talking points for naysayers, nor am I inculcating her with some kind of warped anti-school agenda…really…I’m not!

The couple looked amused and smiled warmly at Emily, “Yes it is, dear, yes it is.”

But in case you need another reason to homeschool – here it is. The Lost Hour points out that kids are getting at least one hour less of sleep than in years past. An hour that they desperately need for healthy brain development. The author goes on to point out that there is an “international obesity epidemic and the rise of ADHD” which some studies are blaming squarely on lack of sleep…

“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. It’s even possible that many of the hallmark characteristics of being a tweener and teen – moodiness, depression, and even binge eating – are actually just symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation.”

I use the early morning at a time to write. With few exceptions, Emily sleeps until she awakens naturally. This might be 7:30 or it might be 8:30 and even 9am, depending on if she has had a nap. And yes, she still naps with regularity. I estimate that, at age five, my child still sleeps around twelve hours a day.

On researcher found that “A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development.” In other words, a sleepy sixth grader was more likely to perform at a fourth grade level.

One thing that definitely got my attention and got me to thinking about a change was the study done on children who are allowed to stay up later on weekends (something we often do). Dr. Monique LeBourgeois concluded in a study that, despite the fact that younger children may stay up late and thus simply sleep later (equating to a shift in sleep patterns, but not a reduction in sleep), “the sleep shift factor alone is correlated with performance on a standardized IQ test. Every hour of weekend shift costs a child seven points on the test.” And another sleep researcher, Dr. Paul Suratt noted, “Sleep disorders can impair children’s IQ as much as lead exposure.”

Food for thought. With my first daughter, I really tried to keep her sleep patterns the same, every night, weeknight or weekend. With Emily however, I find we often stay up an hour or two later on weekends. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate that.

Have an older child? Perhaps a teen? Well, get this…

“…the circadian system…does a ‘phase shift’ that keeps adolescents up later. In prepubescents and grownups, when it gets dark outside, the brain produces melatonin, which makes us sleepy. But adolescent brains don’t release melatonin for another 90 minutes. Awakened at dawn by alarm clocks, teen brains are still releasing melatonin. This pressures them to fall back asleep – either in first period at school or, more dangerously, during the drive to school.”

Color me surprised, there is actually a biological reason for those doggone teen night owls!

I thought it was interesting too that the book mentions that Edina, Minnesota took this knowledge of teen brains and set the start time for school from 7:25 to 8:30, and had phenomenal results…

“In the year preceding the time change, math/verbal SAT scores for the top 10% of Edina’s 1,600 students averaged 683/605. A year later, the top 10% averaged 739/761…getting another hour of sleep boosted math SAT scores of Edina’s Best and Brightest up 56 points, and their verbal SAT score a whopping 156 points…And the students reported higher levels of motivation and lower levels of depression.

And for those who still deal with public schools, there is hope for a change beyond Edina, albeit a small one. The director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center argued that schools are [often] scheduled for adult convenience, there’s no educational reason to start school as early as most of the nation does, “If schools are for education, then we should promote learning instead of interfere with it.”

The last part of The Lost Hour chapter deals with the links between a reduction in ‘slow-wave sleep’ and how critical it is to proper insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. “Children spend over 40% of their asleep time in this slow-wave stage, while older adults are in this stage only about 4% of the night.”

The authors wrap up the chapter by writing…

“…it’s tempting to read [the various studies] and think, ‘I would suffer, but not that bad. I would be the exception.” We’ve coped on too-little sleep for years, and managed to get by…But when it comes to a child’s developing brain, are we willing to keep taking the same brazen dare?”

Perhaps ‘enough sleep’ is not an issue in your house. I think it really isn’t in mine, except for perhaps the weekends, but I definitely appreciate Nurture Shock for making me think about it. Perhaps I will be instituting a regular bedtime for Emily on weekends after all.


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