Children are Sleepless in America

This is a blog title we are likely to encounter in the not-too-distant future if current trends in sleeplessness are allowed to continue. According to Dr Charles Czeisler, Chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, children as young as five years old are getting up to two hours’ less sleep at night than their counterparts in earlier decades.

The figures for adult insomnia are startling enough. Nearly one-quarter of working Americans lose a cumulative total of 367 million work days each year, costing businesses a whopping $63.2 million in lost productivity and other expenses. If the nation’s school children are following suit, what does this say about their quality of education? What kind of work force are we churning out for tomorrow?

Why is this happening?Children are Sleepless in America

It’s simple. Too much light and too much caffeine. Melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep, is released at night about one or two hours before we go to bed in our mattress. However, this timely release can be disrupted by light. These days, we may fall asleep watching television or using our e-readers or tablet computers before laying our head on the pillow. Even if everything is switched “off,” we find ourselves surrounded by a beady array of red standby lights.

We also drink way too much caffeine. Because we lose sleep at night, we dose ourselves with excessive cups of tea, coffee and energy drinks throughout the day. Although we may not feel it, caffeine remains active for between six and nine hours.

A lot of really important things happen in our bodies while we are asleep in that foam mattress; it’s not just a passive process. Memory and learning are consolidated. When we don’t get enough sleep, we become prone to things like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, infections and even cancer.

How do we fix this?

We need to make sleep a priority and manage our sleeping environment. We arrange our kitchens and desk tops for maximum ergonomic efficiency, let’s do that for our “sleep stations,” too. Keep the bedroom cool, dark, quiet and media-free. Stock up on old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs before they are phased out to minimize exposure to bright light at night. Put the gadgets away in a drawer rather than sleep among a buzzing pile of cold, metal black boxes.

Train the kids to recognize the importance of a good night’s sleep. That bleary-eyed kindergartner may one day be in charge of looking after you in your old age!

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