I recently came across a book called ‘Why We Sleep’ by neuroscientist and sleep expert, Matthew Walker, where he digs deep into the cosy world of sleep. It is not written from a daydreaming, catnap, or eiderdown guesswork point of view, but by examining the last twenty years of serious science and sleep studies.
The findings are remarkable and the purpose of our sleep (a genuine scientific mystery until very recently), it seems, is more important than diet or exercise in keeping us healthy. One of the conclusions that Walker reaches is that lack of sleep could, quite literally, kill you. Diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes are just a few of the disorders that can be made worse by sleep deprivation.
Brains need rest too…
Expressions like ‘youth is wasted on the young’ suggest jealousy of the youthful exuberance, but often unwise, actions of young people (from an older person’s point of view – that is). It supports the assumption that wisdom comes with age and that common sense is something learned by experience rather than, as the name implies, something that is actually common.
But the truth is that wisdom, like energy and good health, actually comes from our sleep.
We all feel stronger after a good night’s sleep. More energised, relaxed, ready to face the day and all the better for the rest. What we don’t perhaps realise is that our emotional and cognitive functions are benefiting just as much as our muscles and bodies. Matthew Walker’s book makes it clear that every aspect of our life is improved by getting the right amount of quality sleep.
Is your child sleeping enough?
Another accusation that is sometimes levelled at young people is that they are a little too partial to a lie-in, particularly on the weekends. My advice would be to let them get as much sleep as their bodies think that they need. According to the Sleep Foundation, the suggested average hours needed for various age groups are as follows:
Of course, there is always the question of the ‘quality’ of our sleep. Everyone will have experienced the difference between a restless 9-hour sleep, worrying and waking every few hours, and a perfect, deep and uninterrupted 6-hour bliss: the benefits of sleep do not always have to be associated with hours. Walker’s book covers these aspects as well, but I’d like to leave you with one of my observations as a sports coach for children.
Using energy (in sport or any physical activity) will always benefit sleep patterns. Active toddlers sleep longer; pre-school children that run around the most develop better rest patterns, school goers who are involved in sport or work hard academically suffer fewer sleep deficiencies, and teenagers probably need good sleep more than anyone else.
I would recommend ‘Why We Sleep’ as an interesting read and one that is full of genuine science – rather than some of the opinions shared here.