If I posted a video of my daughter when she is sleep-deprived and trying to finish her homework or clean her room—or do anything, really, that she doesn't want to do—I would lose all credibility as a parenting expert. This is because you would all witness her shockingly bad behavior, from bratty-voice screaming to head-on-the-desk, teary, fist pounding protests.
We humans don't really function all that well when we are seriously tired, and that is especially true for little humans whose brains are not yet fully developed. As Arianna Huffington writes in this post, sleep might just be the key to our happiness and peak performance.
Nothing could be more true for children.
Kids need a lot of sleep to be happy. Unfortunately, studies show that kids are getting significantly less sleep per night than they did in previous generations. This is of no small consequence.
Sleep deprivation—or just getting slightly less sleep than they need—affects kids' functioning and well-being in a huge range of ways. Not getting enough sleep can make kids:
Bad behavior often comes from the fact that sleepiness makes it hard for kids to control their impulses. Given my interest in Raising Happiness , I think this is the most important consequence that not getting my kids into bed on time can have. Why be awake if we are likely to be crabby and unhappy until we get more sleep?
In future posts, I'll dig a little deeper into the sleep research in order to give parents some good guidelines about sleep and their children's happiness. I'll address questions such as: How much sleep do kids need at different ages? Does messing up weekend sleep matter—can we let our kids stay up late once or twice a week without suffering the consequences? Can students make up for lost sleep on the weekends? What does research show we can do to help our kids fall asleep faster and to sleep better?
If we parents have taken the sleep challenge ourselves, the research makes it clear that we ALSO need to take it for our children. Helping our kids get more sleep can have tremendous, positive effects. Because of this, I have recently moved my kids' bedtime to a shockingly-early 7:30 pm (they are 7 and 9 years old, and they catch the bus at 7:50 in the morning). This means that I am trading quality bonding time with my children for sleep. But, given the profound effects sleep has on their health and happiness, I don't think I have a choice: ensuring that my kids get enough sleep is my responsibility as a parent.
Selfishly, I'm also hopeful that when my kids get more sleep, and their moods and behavior improve as a result, our time together will be more positive.
Will it work? Although the one-month Huffington Post sleep challenge is coming to a close, there is still time to take a sleep challenge for your kids. Research shows that it only takes 3 days of increased sleep to significantly influence your children's intelligence and mood for the better. Are you ready?
Christine Carter, Ph.D., is a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, an interdisciplinary research unit that studies the psychology, sociology and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills for a thriving, resilient and compassionate society. Best known for her science-based parenting advice, Dr. Carter follows the scientific literature to understand ways that we can teach children skills for happiness, emotional intelligence, and resilience. She is the author of the new book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. Dr. Carter has a private consulting practice helping families and schools structure children's lives for happiness, and she lives near San Francisco with her family.
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