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Beth's Blog


Here's a Toast to the Good Sleepers Among Us!

It’s great to see sleep being highlighted more often in the news.  I felt compelled to write after seeing (and hearing) Arianna Huffington take a stand on the importance of sleep – in direct opposition to the pervasive attitude devaluing sleep that, unfortunately, is rampant in our culture. 

Speaking this week to a group of undergraduate students about sleep, I was reminded again of how alone good sleepers can feel in the era of being busy 24/7.  The most striking response of these young students to my presentation about sleep was how many of them were good sleepers who were teased or pressured about the amount of sleep they get by family and friends.  One young woman asked if you can get too much sleep, relaying the fact that after a good night’s sleep, she can often still feel tired.  Well-meaning folks have suggested that she is getting too much sleep.

Here is another myth about sleep to be “busted.”  If you have gotten enough sleep, you wake up feeling rested.  If you wake up tired, that is your body’s attempt to tell you: “Yes, thank you for the sleep.  Now I still need more!”  Unknown to most is the fact that “sleep begets sleep.”  Contrary to popular thought, getting more sleep whether in the day or in the night does not make you sleep less at night. 

Recent studies about later start times for high school students showed the unexpected.  Once students didn’t have to get up so early for classes and, as a result, were getting an hour more of sleep, they found themselves going to bed earlier than they had previously and lengthening their night’s sleep even more.  Sleep scientists are not surprised. 

They know what we as a culture seem so unable to accept: as you increase the amount of sleep you get, the easier it is to sleep more.  When young children are struggling with sleep, the most effective way to help them get the sleep they need is to encourage earlier bedtimes and more frequent naps.  Once they gain additional sleep, the process of sleeping better and longer will take over on its own.

But, back to the badge of honor for sleeping little and filling up one’s day with “productivity.”  Unfortunately, it appears (and scientific research gives more and more evidence of this) that we are adding more and more health problems, learning and behavioral problems, and diminished academic performances to our lives as we keep ourselves up and busy longer and longer.   

There is so much work to be done to bust the “myths” about sleep.  But I’ll start by repeating my reassurance to that young undergraduate: There is no such thing as too much sleep!  If you feel tired, keep working on getting more sleep.  And for those good sleepers among us, I want to say: “Hoorah!  You’ve got something good going.  Brave the current climate and hold onto it.”  



Great Books for Parents of Children with Sleep Problems

There are a number of books addressing the issues of children and sleep that can be a great resource for families with the energy to read them!  The following are some of the best.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child  by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.

Dr Weissbluth studied with the pioneer sleep researcher William Dement, M.D. at Stanford University and was one of the first pediatric sleep researchers.  His method for helping children learn to sleep has helped many, many families.  He also has a website with a blog about sleep, temperament, media and children.

The Sleep Easy Solution by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack

The authors are social workers who cofounded a sleep consultation business and share their knowledge and secrets in this book.  Filled with useful tips and step by step plans to help babies learn to sleep, it is quite parent-friendly!

Take Charge of Your Child’s Sleep by Judy A. Owens, M.D. and Jodi A. Mindell, PhD

The authors, known as "The Sleep Doctors", address the oft-neglected topic of sleep difficulties for children from preschool to high school and offer useful strategies.  Dr. Owens is actively involved in the latest pediatric sleep research. 

Sleepless in America by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

The author is an award-winning parent educator and author of Raising Your Spirited Child.  She makes the connection between children’s sleep habits and behavioral and health problems as she integrates research with practical strategies to help children and families.

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey A. Karp, M.D.

This book specifically addresses the issues of crying babies and offers vital and effective tools for calming fussy infants.  His theories and advice are compelling and fill an important niche for the early months when babies' sleep patterns are generally unpredictable and not yet "trainable."  Dr. Karp also has a helpful website for those seeking more information on his approach.

Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems  by Richard Ferber, M.D.

This is the most widely read book on sleep in the world.  Dr. Ferber has devoted his life and career to helping children and families address sleep difficulties.  He unfortunately became associated with the phrase “crying it out,” a concept he actually never suggested.  The book is thoughtfully written and extraordinarily comprehensive.



How Sleeping Through the World Series Opened My Eyes

My interest in sleep was sparked when I was out of work with a medical mishap. I developed a deep infection after a routine shoulder surgery. I wound up on IV antibiotics for three months, and was out of work for a total of nine. All my life I'd been an insomniac, toiling away until the wee hours, but during my recovery I couldn’t do much of anything. Suddenly I was spending a lot of time lying around and sleeping.

Once I was better but not yet able to return to the classroom, the director at the school where I worked asked me to do some research on sleep.  They were having a problem with children who were either overtired or unable to nap, or both.

During that same time, our Boston Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in more than half a century. One night during the Championship Series, I felt myself starting to fall asleep while watching the game and told my husband, "Please wake me up if anything happens." The next morning he informed me that the Sox had won the game in extra innings.  I hollered, "Why didn't you wake me?!" And he said, "I tried! I shook you, I yelled at you..." And that's when I had my lightbulb moment. After all those years of insomnia and bad sleep habits, I’d finally become a sleeper.

I learned firsthand that sleep habits can change at any age. And this gelled with all the scientific research I'd been studying. Sleep habits aren't part of your temperament. These problems can be solved.

My illness inadvertently helped me make up a lifetime of sleep debt. I'm now a deep sleeper and I love sleep. And it's my aim to help parents help their children find the same essential, restorative rest.


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