Too Young To Be So
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America is an overworked and under-slept
nation, and parents are among the most sleep-deprived segment of the
population. We Americans spend more hours working than residents of any
industrialized nation. In order to keep up with the demands of work, of keeping
the house going, spending time with the kids and taking a moment for ourselves,
we steal time from sleep.
It starts with childbirth. Raising an
infant is exhausting. On average, a parent of a new baby loses 400 to 750 hours
of sleep during the first year! But the need for parental intervention
doesnt disappear the first year. A third of children ages one to four
require some form of nighttime ministration.
Chronically sleep-deprived, parents are at
risk of thinking that tiredness is a normal condition of life. But its
not. Even small decrements from the eight-hour standard for adults can impair
performance in the following days. Memory, learning, coordination,
concentration, mood, ability to tolerate stress -- all are affected by sleep
loss. But as bad as sleep deprivation is for adults, its an unfair burden
to foist on kids, whose growth and learning -- and thus capacity for future
performance -- hinges on adequate sleep.
Unfortunately, says Cornell University
psychologist James B. Maas, Ph.D., young parents know nothing about the rules
for good sleep. As a result, many kids today are struggling just to keep their
eyes open. Theyre not just falling asleep on the school bus, theyre
having trouble keeping on task inside the classroom. When theyre not in a
stupor theyre acting up and acting out... and often mistakenly diagnosed
as having attention deficit disorder (ADD) and given stimulants.
Dr. Maas wants to set the record straight
and let parents know that kids today need much more sleep than they are
Hara Estroff Marano is Editor-At-Large of
Psychology Today magazine and Editor-In-Chief of Psychology Today's
Blues Buster, a newsletter about depression. An award-winning writer on
human behavior, Haras articles have appeared in publications including the
New York Times, Smithsonian, Family Circle and The
Ladies Home Journal. She lives in New York City.