DIscussion of NurtureShock, Chapter 2 "The Lost Hour"

We're talking about NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman all summer. One chapter every Friday. Jump in whenever you'd like. Last week we talked about Chapter 1 about praise. This week we're talking about Chapter 2 about sleep.

The chapter is called "The Lost Hour," because kids are getting an average of an hour less sleep every night now than we did thirty years ago. The first thing I love about this chapter is that Bronson and Merryman are looking at the facts, NOT blaming parents for this sleep deficit. They describe some of the factors that go into kids getting less sleep, and you can find yourself in some of them, but it's not going to make you feel judged. So you can read the research and feel like you want to act on what you read without feeling bad about yourself.

The upshot: Being shorted on sleep causes a lot of bad stuff to happen, for kids especially. I'm not going to repeat the whole chapter, but these are the main points they hit on:

  • Being shorted sleep consistently during the formative growing years (up to age 21) can cause permanent rewiring of the brain structure.
  • Missing an hour of sleep, for elementary school kids, causes a drop in performance equivalent to one grade level. And every 15 minutes missed for high schoolers corresponds to one letter grade. (15--fifteen minutes!)
  • Missing sleep means that kids don't have the ability to absorb and process what they've learned neurologically. They also don't remember positive things, but remember negative things! So lack of sleep contributes to bad moods (surprise!) and clinical depression.
  • Teenagers are not physically wired to fall asleep as early as kids and adults are, but they need as much or more sleep thank adults do. This means that starting high school early is having disastrous results in terms of depression and academic performance for teens.
  • Lack of sleep means your body can't process the way it's supposed to, so lack of sleep is a big factor in childhood obesity, but it rarely gets mentioned.

Again, for the studies and actual stats and interpretations, read the book and not just my summary.

This all scared the crap out of me. My kids usually get a good amount of sleep, but I could see myself letting things slide--I already let them stay up "just an hour" later on weekends and in the summer. It also scared me for myself, because I'm consistently short on sleep, just because I don't go to bed at a decent hour. Duh.

NOTE: I don't think this chapter should make you reexamine anything if you're the parent of a child who's 2 years old or less. I'm going to assume that you're doing what you can to get the best and most sleep possible for everyone in your family (by figuring out how best to help your individual child sleep and then taking care of your own sleep needs as best you can). Bronson and Merryman are absolutely NOT saying "If your 6-month-old doesn't sleep through the night s/he is ruined forever!" like some other authors I don't need to mention. Babies are babies. You can help them sleep, but you can't sleep for them (ha!) and you can't force them to sleep any more than you can force them to learn to walk or talk. So if you're still in the long, lonely, scratchy tunnel of baby/toddler sleep, store this info away for when you actually have real control over bedtimes and waking times and aren't just trying to get more than 5 uninterrupted hours for survival purposes.

Thoughts? I don't think it's anything new than no sleep = cranky, but seeing it laid out in research was awesome/awful. I'd be reeeeeeally interested in hearing from teachers, specifically, on whether you can see any patterns in your students.

Next week: Chapter 3, "Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race." (Hint: It's not because we're jerks. Just the opposite.)