Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sleep Manifesto - The HUGE Importance of Sleep

"People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have any."
Leo J. Burke

So this isn't really a manifesto, but it sounds more important that way so I'll let it slide.

Last night was great! I got eight hours of uninterrupted sleep and it was glorious {insert holy music here}. After a crazy Easter weekend full of upside down sleep schedules, H seems to be over the 5AM wake up at least for now. Being that it is only Wednesday, I am obviously not going to assume this is a long term pattern yet. While I miss my time with her in the early morning, it is the disappearance of all the other wakeups that I am really relishing. K had been waking frequently due to his 2 year molars cutting through for the last month. He isn't totally over it yet but I haven't had to get up for him all week so far.
Ok I lied, it wasn't completely uninterrupted sleep. I actually woke at 5AM the last two nights in a row but after realizing H was not crying, I promptly resumed my sleep.

Internal clocks are funny things.

Everyone has them to varying degrees. Take me for example; I have an internal clock that is accurate to the second sometimes. I remember the first time noticing this was when I was a little girl. Like most kids, I was very overzealous to check out the presents on Christmas morning. If allowed, I would have stayed up all night or gotten up at midnight for them so my parents implemented a rule that I was not allowed out of bed until seven in the morning. I worried that I would sleep in past seven since normally I was not a morning person in the slightest capacity so I set my alarm. When Christmas morning rolled around I opened my eyes and immediately looked over at my alarm clock. One second later it flipped over to 7:00 and the alarm went off.

Over the years, waking up a couple of seconds in anticipation of my alarm became somewhat of a regular occurrence. It has carried on into adulthood though it has been less common in the last few years because I have stopped sleeping with the time readily visible. I would get frustrated and anxious waking up before my alarm so I came up with a few ways to curtail it. I figured with a digital clock display glowing the time at me all night I fixated on time much more. Eventually I ditched the clock and just used my cell phone's alarm. I have reduced my alarm anxiety considerably this way. I also set my alarm times to odd times such as 7:57am or 8:13am that way my mind has a harder time keeping track. I also try to never set the alarm for the same time more than once in a row.

Hubby tells me I'm weird, I'm sure he's right but my internal clock has its perks too. I rarely sleep in through something important, even if my alarm fails or I set it wrong

I'm sure there are plenty of people out there with this 6th sense about time while they sleep, but it isn't a common topic of conversation so I have yet to discuss it with anyone that does. Last week I found someone else like me. Surprise surprise it is my infant daughter that has no concept of time yet. I started waking up in anticipation of her 5AM wake ups last week. I would wake up wondering what time it was so I looked at my phone. I would push the side button on the phone, the time would come up as 4:59am, it would switch to 5:00am within a couple of seconds, and another couple of seconds later the lights on the baby monitor would light up (the volume is turned down really low). H knew it was time to wake up despite not having any idea of what time actually is. Amazing!

I have always been very interested in sleep cycles and circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are the natural physiological fluctuations that our bodies have that drive sleep and a huge percentage of our biological processes. The natural rhythms of our hormones are ubiquitous and influence so much more than most people realize. I love reading sleep studies and wish I better understood the mechanisms behind my own internal clock. For now, my weirdly accurate clock is a cool mystery to me but I love reading all sorts of literature on the subject of sleep.

Especially in children, sleep and hormones influence some very important factors including weight, height, appetite, mood, ability to learn, memory, and energy level. Disrupting these circadian cycles is not a good idea. It is a proven fact that even small amounts of lost sleep in school aged children often will negatively influence their learning abilities. There is a strong correlation in kids between poor sleep, weight issues and depression.

Back in 1996, a local high school (Edina High School) changed their start time from 7:15am to 8:30am. From one year to the next their average SAT score jumped over 100 points (cumulative) out of 1600 possible points. I'm sure there are several factors contributing to this but it is hard to negate the role that a good night's sleep plays in academic performance. Sleep studies across all age groups of children show consistently that sleep is incredibly important when it comes to learning. If you want a good read on this and several other subjects I would highly recommend the book NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. They sprinkle in a few sensationalistic statistics, but overall the research they summarize and base their assumptions on is sound. The messages they bring about raising kids from infancy to adolescence are sometimes surprising and often profound.

In the meantime, my kids are still at the age where I am at the mercy of their sleep schedules. If they don't get enough sleep it is felt throughout the whole house all day long. Right now I had planned to go to a drop-in Baby and Me class for H, but K is feeling a little off still and is therefore sleeping. I know better than to fight it so we will stay home for today.

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