Sleep’s a mysterious thing. We’re not sure what sleep is or why we need it, but we do know sleep is critical to our health and wellbeing. Lack of sleep has been associated with pretty much all that ails humans, and recently it has been also blamed for rising obesity rates.
Parents loose sleep worrying about sleep. Most parents believe their kids don’t get enough of it. We blame it on overscheduling, iPads, YouTube or our busy state of mind, but whatever it is, sleep’s always insufficient.
Sleep concerns are nothing new
A new study in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics finds concerns over kids’ sleep from the early 1900s were much similar to our concerns today. The researchers, led by Lisa Anne Matricciani, tracked more than a century’s worth of advice in more than 200 articles regarding children’s sleep, and compared it to data on how much kids actually slept over the years.
Kids always slept less that what health professionals thought they should -- about 37 minutes less than recommendations.
With the passing century sleep recommendations have also shrunk by a rate of about 0.71 minutes per year.
Our kids are indeed sleeping less: Sleep has declined about 0.73 minutes per year in the past century. That amounts to our kids slumbering about 20 minutes less than we did, and 40 minutes less than their grandparents.
“Modern Living” robs kids’ dreams
Our great grandparents shared our perception of life going faster and faster, and a British Medical Journal editorial from 1894, titled “Sleeplessness”, cited in the article, states “The hurry and excitement of modern life is quite correctly held to be responsible for much of the insomnia of which we hear.”
The novel preoccupation of the day has always been charged with keeping kids away from shuteye: first it was books, then the radio, and later TV, the Internet and social media.
How much sleep do kids need?
Despite finding 35 sets of recommendations about optimal sleep duration, the study discovers that the sleep need of kids remains a big unknown. Recommendations were based largely on opinions, which were based on, well, nothing really. We have no scientific clue how much sleep kids need.
But in case you’re curious about current recommendations take a look here; these, too, I assume are based on observations and very little evidence. If your kid is tired and cranky, he’s not getting enough sleep.
The kids are all right
There was something comforting about reading this research. It suggests we’re just a link in a generational chain of worrying parents.
When my kids ask why I worry about them so much I say it’s moms' nature to worry -- I guess it served our species well to be cautious and protective of our young.
We may long for bygone, simpler times, but the kids never slept enough, whatever that enough might be, and nevertheless, they’re probably going to turn out just fine.