We are the most recreation-orientated society on this planet, so why are we ALL so tired too much of the time? For the many years I operated a diagnostic and research sleep laboratory after receiving my diploma from the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine I was focused on the gamut of sleep pathology ranging from apnoea to restless limb syndromes but I gradually learned that patient complaints of fatigue and lethargy very often had no basis in any specific medical condition. Too many people are distressed by their own undoing; specifically, there is a generalized misunderstanding of the purpose of sleep, and worse, a mistaken belief that personal commitment to sleep time can be minimized.
Sleep is NOT a waste of time nor can it be minimized if the person is to remain in good health. Sleep is a dynamic state with measurable fluctuating levels of electrical wave activity in combination with the release and blocking of chemicals in the millions of nerve connections within the brain. Making the analogy as uncomplicated as possible, sleep allows the brain to recharge its power supply and perform essential multiple maintenance functions.
In separate but interestingly cohesive reports, Canada’s PARTICIPACTION annual report and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine have published evidence of extremely negative trends of deteriorating sleep patterns in children. They conclude there will be negative effects in child well being for the long term. These studies contradict the current public perception that sleep is a flexible variable in our 24 hour life cycle. The majority of people grossly underestimate their personal sleep needs and those of their younger family members. KUDOS to PARTICIPACTION (whose stated mandate is the monitoring of physical activity in children) for its forward thinking inclusion of sleep patterns in its monitoring of child behaviours.
These are the guidelines. Children aged 6 thru 12: have a minimum requirement of 9 hours sleep, 60 minutes of moderate to challenging physical activity daily, two hours of lighter activity involving any type of mobility, and…NO MORE than TWO HOURS of recreational screen time inclusive of tv, gaming, Internet and cell time. For teens, the target is 7-8 hours sleep time.
How large is the gap between where we are and where we should be?
At present, less than 10 percent of Canadian children meet these standards. What is equally interesting about these evidence-based studies is that only 70 percent of the preschooler group meet these requirements; begging the question of what happens in the older categories. The other respected observers of this sleep deprivation syndrome are the front line educators who have been red flagging the observation for years that fully ONE THIRD of their students are clinically sleep deprived as shown by their poorer grade scores and classroom participation levels. It is a fact that tired children are not good learners
So, how do we remedy this academic and behavioural epidemic? The first step is the recognition that creeping technology has assumed a pervasive role in our daily lives at home, at play, and at work. We have become passive devotees to inactivity. Coupled with the cancelling of mandatory phys Ed school programs and the unhealthy food choices in the ubiquitous vending machines, it’s no wonder our children are obese. How many families as a unit ever sit in the designated dining area for even one breakfast or supper…any day of the week? Parents need to commit to time controls on the electronics in their home.The Internet has no place as a parent surrogate. Children’s bedrooms are not the place for after hours cell phones, DVDs, Internet, video games do other electronic distractions. The inactive child does not acquire the fatigue necessary to initiate effective sleep patterns. So, if you have tired children not performing well in school, it’s definitely time to scrutinize his or her daily activity level. We are all busy being busy but it is now time to prioritize how best we utilize the leisure time technology has gifted us. Committing to creating a mentally and physically and socially healthier next generation would be a commendable start. Not a bad role for grandparents too.
Written by: Dr. David Carll