What If We Treated Life Like We Treat Sleep?
I was reading Why Sleep Matters for Kids’ Bodies and Brains. The author noted that “kids don’t sleep enough.” She quoted Rafael Pelayo, a sleep expert, as saying, “Whenever I tell people that my work is on sleep, people say things, like, ‘I love to sleep.’ That’s an odd thing to say, because it’s like saying you’re fond of oxygen.” Sleep is as important as oxygen. We need it to survive. Yet we tend to think of it as an enjoyable thing we don’t get enough of. Fact is: sleep-deprivation is associated with a host of physical and mental ailments. We need sleep to live healthy, happy lives.
A little later in the article, the sleep expert compared people’s thoughts about their need for sleep with their thoughts about food. He said, “You don’t say to your kids, ‘Eat whatever you want on Saturday or Sunday, because I’m going to starve you Monday to Friday. Yet that’s the way we treat sleep.” What? He’s right. We let our children stay up late and force them to get up early Monday through Friday, limiting their sleep time and then allowing them to sleep all day Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately, “it doesn’t work that way.” We don’t catch up on our sleep. We’ve starved their need for sleep during the week and gorged on the weekend. Not a healthy diet of sleep.
He also noted that we dream in the last quarter of the night. So when we awaken children early, we interfere with the dream cycle of their sleep. We are “dream-depriving them.” He then goes on to say, “It’s a platitude we say to teenagers all of the time: we want you to follow your dreams. But we cut off the ability to dream with the schedules we impose on them.”
Those statements “got me wondering.” How else do we treat sleep in ways wildly contradictory to the rest of life. Consider these examples:
- We need to model good sleep habits for our children, but we often don’t make great sleep role models. We live in a world that does not value sleep. I’ve even heard people pridefully talk about how little sleep they got last night to highlight their dedication to the current activity or the busyness of their work. Such statements do not model good sleep habits. Such actions and statements basically tell our children to “Do as I say, not as I do.” Who would smoke a cigarette and tell their child to “Do as I say, not as I do” and expect they won’t try smoking?
- Sometimes we reward our children with the “privilege” of staying up late. If they finish their homework, help clean the kitchen, or behave appropriately all day, they can stay up late and skip some of their needed time of sleep. That’s like telling our children, “Do a good job and you can engage in this unhealthy practice of sleep-deprivation.” It would be like sitting at the dinner table and saying, “If you eat all your donuts, you don’t have to eat your vegetables.”
- Times get busy and sleep gets put on the back burner. But remember, sleep is essential for our mental, emotional, and physical health. Without sleep, we struggle. Yet, we put it on a back burner compared to other things in our lives—work, school, athletics, music, socialization, TV, gaming, social media. What if we did the same when it came to using the bathroom? “Don’t take time to go to the bathroom, just do your work.” “Don’t quit gaming when you ‘need to go.’ Hold it. You’ll be fine.” The outcome would be less than desirable. When we put sleep on a back burner to our other interests, the outcome is just as undesirable. It’s a disaster.
I know those statements sound silly when applied to parts of life other than sleep. But they should sound just as silly when applied to sleep. Sleep is crucial to our health. Make it a priority in your family. You, your spouse, and your children will be glad you did.