Magazine article USA TODAY

Slumber in Short Supply

Magazine article USA TODAY

Slumber in Short Supply

Article excerpt

EVERYONE CARING for or raising a child knows one essential truth--parenting is a lifelong commitment. Finding enough time for work, a social life, and maybe even a romantic relationship can seem like a nearly impossible balancing act. Parents who do not have the luxury of nannies or housekeepers must endure a never-ending struggle to keep some essential element of daily life from falling by the curbside. For some, that means fewer hours spent with their children, homes that are not always kept spick and span, or a complete loss of personal me-time. When stress is high and time is in short supply, the one daily activity that too often gets cut back also is the one we need the most--sleep. A lack of adequate sleep has become a significant problem for today's parents and children.

Throughout human evolution, sleep always has been one of those hard-to-grasp biological needs that we just cannot shake. Science has not pinpointed completely the precise reason why we need such an extended period of rest, but it is clear that the time we spend sleeping allows our bodies and minds to relax and heal from the stresses of the day. However, in our increasingly technology-dependent world, we have grown accustomed to making ourselves accessible on a 24/7 basis.

Along with that comes a perpetual barrage of media stimulation and personal demands. Many of us have workdays that never seem to end and it often can feel like there is no good time just to turn in and tune out the world. Our inability to master a healthy work-life balance creates a kind of perpetual time crunch. What generally suffers most is the length and quality of our sleep and, over a period of time, our health and our relationships. A Gallup Poll points out that the pervasiveness of sleep deprivation in the U.S has reached startlingly high levels, with 40% of polled subjects getting less than seven hours per night.

I often hear a similar refrain when I speak to men and women who are not getting the sleep they need: they would love to enjoy a bit of rest and relaxation at the end of a long day, but it just is impossible to "find" the time. It is no secret that plenty of mothers and fathers can treat parenting as a competitive sport. Being too busy and looking knackered is worn like a badge of honor rather than a burden, and it is not uncommon to hear mothers and fathers almost gleefully report that their endless commitments have left them with so little time to sleep that they barely are functioning.

The cult of productivity has reached fever pitch in certain parenting circles. Even the tiniest bit of free time can serve as a finger-wagging reminder that you are not doing everything in your power to dedicate total commitment to your children. It does not seem to matter if it comes at the cost of your mental and physical health. In this type of atmosphere, with personal time--and sleep in particular--devalued, parents not only have less ability to model positive behavior for their little ones, they set an unrealistic example that can have profound repercussions on their child's mood and health on every level.

Children's first method of exploring the world around them safely is to mimic the practices and behaviors of their parents and caregivers. For many children, this can mean adopting a similar manner of speaking, enjoying the particular type of music a parent plays for them, or having a preference for the type of food they are served at home. For others, this can mean following their parents' unhealthy example of spreading themselves too thin and leaving little time for essential activities, like sleep and play.

In the early years of a child's life--aside from food, shelter, and comfort--there are few things as vital to healthy development as the opportunity to play. Play--particularly that of the unstructured variety--promotes brain development, allows children to navigate and overcome their fears, fosters independence and positive self-esteem, and can help children bond with their parents, teachers, and caregivers. …

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