Dear Doc: Early to bed, early to rise |

Dear Doc: Early to bed, early to rise

Dr. Drew Werner
Vail CO, Colorado

I have been busy with back to school and sports physicals as our students get ready for the 2008-’09 school year. Talking with the students, many were proud to say they did their best in school last year, while others admitted they did not put forward their best effort. My question to those who knew they could have done better was how would it be if I decided I did not want to be a good doctor today, or if the person fixing the brakes on their car decided that a good job just wasn’t that important?

If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. There are few activities in a young person’s life more important that rising to the academic challenges of school. So what does this have to do with medicine? Everything of course! Just as our knee bone is connected to our thigh bone, our mental and emotional health is intertwined with our physical well being. Considering that, I have a “secret” that will guarantee improved success in school! Read on …

Going back to school is like getting ready for any big event. If we don’t prepare, or more specifically get our children prepared, they risk falling behind at the starting line. Specifically, there is no substitute for a good night’s sleep. Summer habits frequently follow daylight.

Our children are more often up late followed by either sleeping in or falling behind on sleep. If they do fall behind, there is no such thing as catching up. Our bodies may feel rested, but it takes longer than one night for our minds to catch up. To be at our peak, our minds need a full night’s sleep. Too little sleep and children’s grades may suffer as well as their athletic performance and mood. We all know what monsters we may create with too little sleep!

The facts are astounding. Too little sleep may result in any of the following: falling asleep in class, difficulty waking up in the morning, inability to concentrate and even depression. One study found that sleep may have a significant affect on grades; teens who got the least amount of sleep earned C’s and D’s, whereas teens who got the most sleep tended to get A’s and B’s. If you witness any of the above negative affects, recognize that your son or daughter may be sleep deprived.

How much sleep is necessary? Newborns sleep the most, as many as 18 hours a day. That need for sleep drops to 10 or 11 hours by age five. This remains constant until adolescence, where the sleep required drops to about nine hours. Then as adults, we need seven or eight hours a night to be at our peak.

Read on for some important habits to follow in order to get a good night’s sleep.

– Don’t drink beverages with caffeine, such as soda and coffee, after dinner.

– Don’t use a computer right before bed. Light signals to your brain that it’s time to wake up.

– Don’t pull an “all-nighter.” For children (think sleepover parties or homework) and adults (the reasons are endless) staying up all night, or even a good part of the night, can really mess up sleep patterns, requiring several days to re-adjust.

– Do exercise regularly, but not right before bed. Exercise releases hormones that energize us. That’s a good thing for the morning or afternoon, but not at night.

– Do try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. We all have natural circadian rhythms, which work best if we don’t fight them.

– Do get into bright light in the morning to help wake up.

– Do follow good sleep hygiene. In other words, develop a regular, soothing habit in the evening to tell our bodies to get ready for sleep. Read, meditate, pray, change into something comfortable, or what ever works!

– Do try to stick with your regular sleep schedule on weekends, too. Again, you can’t catch up on missed sleep from the week before.

In addition, adults should follow these habits:

– Don’t nap excessively. For adults, napping more than 30 minutes may keep you from falling asleep later, taking away from your body’s physical sleep needs and leaving you lacking on a mental and emotional level.

– Don’t consume alcohol before bedtime. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it is even more likely to cause rebound insomnia. That’s a medical term that refers to a person waking up two or three hours after going to bed and having difficulty falling back asleep.


– There is nothing more important before a big event (whether it’s the first day of school, an exam, or a business presentation) than a good night’s sleep!

Remember your health is your responsibility! Health is our greatest asset and it doesn’t happen by accident. If something doesn’t seem right, or questions are left unanswered don’t wait, call your doctor. E-mail questions about this article to

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