Sleep is a biological function that is often perceived to get in the way of living and many in modern society think it is something to be minimized or eliminated altogether in the name of progress. In the book Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, David K. Randall makes the case that while sleeping makes vulnerable, therefore making it costly from an evolutionary perspective it is a necessary price to pay for all the benefit it brings and it’s importance should not be overlooked.
Sleep depravation according to the book has major downsides:
“Chronic sleep deprivation in adolescents diminishes the brain’s ability to learn new information, and can lead to emotional issues like depression and aggression. Researchers now see sleep problems as a cause, and not a side effect, of teenage depression.”
“This memory center of the brain was 20 percent smaller in patients with sleep apnea. Had a doctor looked at a patient’s brain scan alone, it would have suggested severe cognitive impairment: a similar shrinkage in the size of the mammillary bodies [ed: an important part of memory and associated with insomnia] is found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease or those who experienced memory loss as a result of alcoholism.”
“The fact that patients’ memory problems continue despite treatment for their sleep disorder implies a long-lasting brain injury.”
To further highlight the important of sleep, the book talks about the importance of naps
“In one study, researchers identified two groups of three-year-olds. Children in the first group had strict nap schedules that mandated the hours they had to spend in bed, whether they wanted to or not. Children in the second group napped whenever they felt like it, which was rarely. All of the children in both groups slept for a total of about ten and a half hours each night, regardless of whether they napped or not. Yet the children in the dedicated napping group slept more, logging an average of two additional hours over a twenty-four-hour period compared with those with irregular naptimes.”
“The children in the napping group were “more fun to be around, more sociable and less demanding,” researchers noted. With their longer attention spans and calmer dispositions, they were able to learn and adapt to changing circumstances. Children who didn’t sleep as much, meanwhile, were hyperactive and fussy, a result of missing out on the time spent in deep REM sleep that allowed the nappers to better react and respond to the world around them.”
On the topic of whether kids should sleep with or away from their parents, the research according to the book shows that it doesn’t really matter, but habit and consistency is a major indicator of whether kids will get a good nights sleep or not.
The book goes further by giving examples of how athletic performance has been enhanced due to paying attention to natural sleep cycles, military failures caused by sleep deprivation and other stories from the fringe of what we do and do not know about sleep and it’s effects on biological functions.
We may just be scratching the surface of understanding what sleep is about but the fact that we have evolved with it despite of the fact that our ancestors could have been eaten by predators whilst asleep means its importance should not be overlooked and if your kids are sleepy or are groggy in the morning then one should look into it
All in all it is a fascinating read and I would highly recommend Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep to anyone who is serious about childhood development.
All quotes are from Randall, David K.. Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep (p. 204). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.