The importance of sleep |

The importance of sleep

Dr. Drew Werner
Vail, CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” My kids are counting down the days, and my wife, like all our other teachers, is already wondering how the summer passed so quickly. Back to school is nearly here.

Success in school depends on the right preparation, like planning for any important event. If we don’t prepare, or more specifically, get our children prepared, then they risk falling behind at the starting line.

Perhaps nothing is more important than being rested and planning on 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, we all need a full night’s sleep, and this is especially true for our children. Too little and grades may suffer, as well as athletic performance, mood and affect. We all know the monsters that lurk behind too little sleep.

The facts are astounding. A poor night’s rest 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 has a significant impact on grades. Teens who got the least amount of sleep earned C’s and D’s, while their classmates who got the most sleep tended to get A’s and B’s.

Think of your children. If you witness any of the above symptoms, consider that your son or daughter may be sleep deprived.

How much sleep is needed? Newborns sleep the most, as many as eighteen 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.

What are some important habits to follow in order to get a good night’s sleep?

For children and adults alike:

” 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 sleep-over 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 whatever 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, which refers to waking you up two or three hours later and making it more difficult to fall back asleep.

” Remember, there is nothing more important before the 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.

Dr. Drew Werner of the Eagle Valley Medical Center writes a regular column for the Daily. He encourages health questions. Write him by e-mail to or c/o Editor, Vail Daily, P.O. Box 81, Vail, 81658.

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