Sleep. It heals, it restores, it improves us. Sleep. It makes me drowsy just to write the word. Sleep. I wish I could get more of it.
Parents are lobbying for more of it in communities where school begins at dawn. At the same time, researchers are discovering just how important sleep is for us, and how dangerous the lack of it might be.
Sleep was a focus of a handful of papers presented at The Society for Neuroscience annual conference this year. Researchers concluded that about 20 percent of American adults suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, and the problem can lead to a slew of immediate and long-term consequences.
In Tuesday’s Washington Post, Bonnie Berkowitz and Alberto Cuadra present much of that material in a fascinating graphic. It shows the exact areas of the brain that are impacted when a brain is not allowed to finish its necessary sleep cycles.
Chronic deprivation can contribute to obesity and diabetes risks, reduced learning and memory skills and can cause us to make costly or harmful mistakes.
There is some debate on how much sleep kids actually get.
The National Sleep Foundation estimates that growing teens need more than nine hours of sleep a night, but, on average, get about seven hours.
Another recent study, however, suggests this may be an overstatement. The report, just published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, suggests that children and teens are getting more sleep than we realize. By having family members keep time diaries over a number of years, researchers found that their sample of about 2,000 subjects were getting the amount of sleep recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
That would be more than 13 hours a day for infants, decreasing steadily throughout childhood and early adolescence, reaching about nine hours a day for 14- to 18-year-olds.
A note of caution with this study is that it concluded kids tend to get more sleep on weekends. Sleep experts say that “catching up” on sleep can lead to a vicious cycle, where sleep patterns get thrown off and end up leaving a kid sleep deprived during the week.
It’s weekday sleep that is usually most necessary since that’s when kids have to be “on” in school and during extracurricular activities.
A separate recent study presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics national conference found that student athletes who slept for at least eight hours a night were close to 70 percent less likely to suffer a sports-related injury.
“We cannot underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep,” said Clifford Saper, a Harvard Medical School expert on sleep at the SfN news conference in October. “Brain imaging and behavioral studies are illuminating the brain pathways that are blocked or contorted by sleep deprivation, and the risks this poses to learning, memory, and mental health.”
What are the sleep schedules in your home? What changes in family routine would help allow for more sleep time?