Explanations Are In Order

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Sleep isn’t as easy as it looks.

I mean, look at him there. Lying in bed, mouth slightly open, sprawled across the mattress, the blanket twirled around his feet and a look of innocence that absolutely has no place there on his face. Peaceful and wonderful.

It’s those instants of love and bliss that allow us to not put our hands around the little tyke’s throat and throw him into the bed, wrap him with coarse ropes tightly to the bed, stuff a gag into his mouth, turn off the lights, slam the door and secure it with six different locks and then set the Dobie-matic to automatic and point it at the door.

Bedtime can bring out the worst in all of us. And I include parents as well as the spawn in that.

sleep-deprivation_001.jpgHere’s the deal. Sleep is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Sleep does wonders for our brains. It allows us to correlate our daily experiences with earlier events, helps us index facts and figures and secure them into long-term memory, allow us to build connections between related ideas and memes, and helps our brains to blow off metaphorical steam so we can rise rested and ready to go. Sleep also proves amazingly restorative for our bodies. During sleep, our muscles can relax and regenerate any damage done during the day’s workout. Without enough sleep, we are setting ourselves up for coronary trouble down the line.

We know all of that. And we still fight our brains out almost every night with our kids, who see sleep very, very differently.

Look at it from the kids’ perspective. To them, sleep is vaguely like a punishment. They have to go into a dark room, lie still on their bed with no entertainment and no one to talk to, then they have to stay there quietly for, like, hours! Is it any wonder they fight us tooth and nail when we try to enforce bedtime?

Of course not.

To make things worse for bedtime battles, we as parents tend to be so very worn out by the end of the day that the most we can muster when it’s time for the spawn to hit the hay is to growl in increasingly frustrated voices to. . . Well, this book title probably says it all.gotheftosleep.jpg

The thing is, though, there might be a better way to get the spawn to sleep.

Think about it: We explain the dangers of cycling without a helmet (sometimes with graphic pictures) and things like why it’s a bad idea to test the depth of the wall electrical socket with a flathead screwdriver. (Which, trust me, it is.) But sleep only gets the obligatory, “Be quiet and go. TO. SLEEP. NOW!”

Taking the time to explain why going to sleep and getting enough of it is important might actually help us achieve those goals. And there’s actual science-y stuff behind that. Not just me getting my blowhard on. Two studies with sets of seventh-grade students show that after a good sleep program the participants actually slept longer and went to bed earlier on weeknights.

The most recent science stuff covered an experiment with a bunch of preschoolers. The parents of the preschoolers received a 45-minute class on the importance of sleep, while the students and teachers participated in a daily program designed to instill in the kids knowledge of why sleep is so important for them and for their health.

The preschoolers received two weeks of daily education sessions, as well as supporting activities at home. The children were each given a teddy bear, which they practiced “putting to bed”; they read the bedtime classic “Goodnight Moon” in class, and were given a copy of the book to take home; and they went over the notion that 8 p.m. was the right time to go to bed.

By the end of the program, the kids knew the best bedtime, the best bedtime snack (an apple versus a candy bar) and that reading is better than TV right before bed. But that’s not all. . . 

Most striking, the teachers told (study authors), parents came into school with reports of a new development: When the children saw the clock strike 8 p.m., they would now announce: “It’s time for bed!”

We really need to give this education thing a chance, I’m thinking. Of course, it needs to take place before bedtime because, let’s face it, when bedtime rolls up, we parents are just plain done in. We’re through. Which might explain all the yelling and such when we’re interrupted during the three seconds we get to relax after a long day with the kids and before we pass out.

Tell you what. We’ve all got the information now. What say we sleep on it?


Of course I said it. I couldn’t not say it.