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Sleeping Your Way to Greater Health and Happiness

my_photography_199“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” ~Irish Proverb

Honestly answer the following questions:

Do you have to set your alarm in order to wake up in the morning?

Do you wake up your kids–before they would get up on their own–to be ready for school or camp?

Do people in your family wake up cranky and out of sorts?

Do you ever fall asleep watching TV, at the movies, or listening to a less than exciting lecture?

Do you or your kids crave sugary foods or caffeine in the afternoon because your energy is lagging?

WARNING! These are all possible signs of sleep deprivation.

No one in America seems to be getting enough sleep these days. Do you know that almost one-third of Americans report getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night? Recent studies estimate that fifty to seventy million Americans are chronically sleep deprived–serious enough to be labelled a public health epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although outbreaks like the swine flu get lots of attention, chronic sleep deprivation is frighteningly common, extremely dangerous and only seems to be getting worse.

What Sleep Loss Does to Adultsfile0001922137930

The long-term health effects of sleep loss are numerous and deadly, including diabetes, hypertension, weight gain, depression, heart attack and stroke. That’s not to mention the immediate effects like falling asleep behind the wheel of a car, on the job, or while taking care of children. As adults we know better but sometimes just do what we have to in order to get by. When it comes to our children, the stakes are even higher, and our responsibility is greater. In case you are not sure of just how many hours of sleep is considered healthy, check out this link to find out how much sleep you and your kids should be getting.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Teens

A new survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that sleep deprivation makes teens much more prone to taking dangerous risks. The rule of thumb is that while younger kids need 10 or 11 hours of sleep each night, teens still require 8 1/2 to 9 hours to remain healthy. The new study led by Lela McKnight-Eily found that kids getting less than 8 hours are 86% more like to contemplate suicide and 60% more likely to smoke or drink. They are also more likely to have sex, fight with peers, and use drugs. One hypothesis is that sleep deprivation affects not only their judgement but also their ability to withstand peer pressure or temptation.

The study also discussed other bad habits that contribute to the problem such as lack of regular exercise, too many hours in front of the TV and computer, and drinking too much sugary soda. McKnight-Eily encourages parents to set consistent limits, including bedtimes, as difficult as that can be. Another strategy we would recommend is to share studies such as this with your kids, to figure together how to get the necessary 9 hours (at least most nights), and to model good self-care for them by getting enough sleep yourself. Everyone’s mood will probably be better!

file000809379634The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Toddlers

A new study just published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics followed 9,000 children from birth through kindergarten. The research team led by Dr. Rebecca J. Scharf of University of Virginia, asked parents to track when their four year-olds went to bed and got up on weekdays. Most of the kids got around 10 1/2 hours of sleep each night, typically between 8:30 pm and 7:30 am. What was striking about the study was what happened to toddlers who got less than 9 3/4 hours of sleep.

“Children in the shortest sleep groups have significantly worse behavior than children with longer sleep duration,” Dr Scharf and colleagues write. The kids were 80% more likely to have problems with anger and aggression than their peers who were getting enough sleep. They also suffered from impulsivity, temper tantrums, overactivity and other annoying behaviors. Something as simple as a lack of sleep can make a normal four year-old look like they have ADD or emotional problems.

The Effects of Changing Bedtimes

In another study recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, consistent bedtimes were linked to better school performance. Amanda Sacker, professor at University College London followed the sleep and academic test scores of 11,000 children at ages 3, 5 and 7. Their conclusion: advise parents to put their children to bed at the same time every night if you want to give them a boost in school performance and brain development.

Many parents think that it is okay to allow young kids to stay up late on the weekends since they don’t have school the next day. The problem is that young kids don’t generally sleep in–so not only does this practice deprive the child of the right amount of sleep, it also throws off the child’s sleep rhythms, making it harder to go to bed at the appropriate time on school nights.

Some Tips for Healthy Sleep Patterns


Tip #1: Examine the chart to see how much sleep you or your kids should be getting. Start making bedtime earlier each night by 15 minute increments until you or your child wakes up naturally, without an alarm clock.

Tip #2: Keep bedtimes consistent until you have a teen that sleeps in. Don’t make staying up late into something special. Find other ways to make the weekend different than school days.

Tip #3: Start winding down after dinner. It is easier for everyone to fall asleep after quiet activities rather than video games, fast action TV shows, or emotionally activating conversations on the phone or Facebook. Establish a routine that includes taking a bath, quiet time, reading out loud or until sleepy. Turn off the electronics.

Tip #4: Many parents are great at getting the kids to bed on time but then stay up too late themselves. It is much harder to maintain consistency and to create a calm environment for the whole family when moms or dads are chronically tired.

Tip #5: Take a little snooze while your kids are napping rather than doing more work. You will be more productive on every front if you can pay back your sleep debt.

Remember the famous line, “People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one?” Do your best to take care of yourself. (More hints in this link). Your health and well-being matter.



Sleeping Your Way to Greater Health and Happiness

Debra Manchester MacMannis, LCSW

Debra Manchester MacMannis, LCSW. co-authored How's Your Family Really Doing? 10 Keys to a Happy, Loving Family with her psychologist husband, Don MacMannis, Ph.D. Together they have co-directed The Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara ( for over 30 years, providing psychotherapy to thousands of couples and families as well as training and consultation with other therapists, non-profits and schools. More blogs and information can be found at

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APA Reference
Manchester MacMannis, D. (2013). Sleeping Your Way to Greater Health and Happiness. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2019, from


Last updated: 15 Jul 2013
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Jul 2013
Published on All rights reserved.