Perchance to Dream

Advice on Sleep

We know how important good sleep is. So, why don’t we do it?

The research is clear: sleep quality is directly related to our mood, our capacity to focus, our productivity, our weight, and even our ability to fight off illness.

What “a good night’s sleep” looks like is clear too: 

  • Going to bed at the same time each night

  • Staying away from caffeine

  • Avoiding electronic devices at least 30 minutes and food for 2-3 hours before bedtime

  • Getting an age-appropriate amount of sleep 

Perhaps that’s why commercials on television and ads on social media are forever letting us know about the latest mattress or pillow, promising that the “right” one is guaranteed to improve the quality of our sleep. We instinctively know that sleep quality contributes to our health and wellness.

But, much like other health-related information, just knowing something doesn’t magically change our behavior. The science is quite clear that fruits and vegetables are better for us than cake, cookies and ice cream, yet we still find ourselves (at least I do) migrating towards sugary treats.

How many of us pulled “all-nighters” in school, studying right up until the moment the exam started? We were told that it was a much better practice to get a good night’s sleep before an exam, yet we stayed up all night arriving to the test in a caffeine-induced frenzy. (We’ll save the issues of procrastination and caffeine for a future Legends newsletter). 

Perhaps what gets in the way is that we tend not to value “taking a break.” Countries around the world have embraced the notion of an afternoon nap, or siesta, recognizing that taking a break during the day can make our lives better in so many ways.  Yet in the US, we view this as being lazy. We don’t even take our vacations in this country!

Focusing on sleep, taking breaks, committing to time off and vacations, these restore our bodies and our minds, and they are worth modeling to our children. They will take sleep and rest seriously if they see us doing the same. 

If you’re looking for a simple way to get started modeling better sleep habits and encouraging them for your kid: I recommend naps. 

I hated taking a nap as a child and now, I love them (and research supports them)! In a study of almost 3,000 fourth, fifth and sixth graders (10 to 12 year-olds), researchers found that “children who nap 30 to 60 minutes midday at least three times a week are happier, have more self-control and grit and showcase fewer behavioral problems, …they also have higher IQs and excel academically.”

A note of caution: some parents have chosen to use melatonin to help their children who have sleep issues, with the use of melatonin to help children fall asleep having increased six-fold in the last decade. Although melatonin is likely to be safe, parents should consult their health care provider before giving it to their children. I recommend trying other behavioral interventions first.

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