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teen_sleepDear Nadine,
My teen is awake all night and sleeps all day. Should I be concerned? — Marjorie, Coon Rapids

You wake up after ten uninterrupted hours of blissful sleep feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and ready to take on the world! So if sleep is good for us mind, body and spirit — why aren’t our kids getting enough?

Today many kids turn up to school “wired and tired” rather than “bright-eyed and bushy tailed.” The cause? Video games, 24-hour TV, Facebook, FaceTime and fraternizing with e-friends have made it increasingly easy for teens to stay awake longer and push bedtime back further, so they don’t get the required 8.5 to 9.5 hours of pillow time they need each night. Add in a daily Red Bull or two and you can see why James B. Maas, a Cornell University psychologist and leading sleep researcher, describes today’s teenagers as “walking zombies!” Frankly, I don’t think many of our 5 to 10 year olds are getting their 10 to 11 hours of shut-eye either — but they should!

Sleep deprivation in kids is serious business. It can cause everything from hormonal disruptions to a decline in immune efficiency — up to 30 percent, according to researchers at the University of San Diego — to a mistaken diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. That’s because exhausted kids don’t slow down when they are tired, but “get wound up and hyperactive,” explains Sarah Stolz, M.D., associate medical director of Sleep Medicine Associates in Seattle.

Sleep deprivation also impacts how kids learn. As sleep specialist Dr. Mary A. Carskadon of Brown University notes, a lack of sleep in kids creates three strikes against learning. “Students are not awake enough to attend to information they’re supposed to be learning, their knowledge acquisition is impaired and their ability to retrieve information is reduced. What is learned during the day is consolidated during sleep.”

So vital is sleep to school performance that Carskadon found that high-school students who earned excellent grades slept an average of 25 minutes more and went to bed 40 minutes earlier than their lower-scoring peers! Clearly, to get your A’s you need your ZZZZZZZZs!

Of course, sleep isn’t just good for kids’ bodies and minds — it’s also nourishing for their spirit. School can be an intense experience for the hardiest of kids. Stimulating on a multitude of levels, school is all go, go, go and do, do, do. Follow up a busy day at school with after-school activities, plus homework, and our kids need time to decompress and allow the emotional and mental debris of the day to melt away. That time before sleep is important for this, whether they are reading, praying or lying quietly. It’s an opportunity for kids to switch off, unwind, collect scattered energy and reconnect with their soul.

And then there’s sleep itself. Sleep unfolds in a series of recurring stages, from deep sleep to dreaming sleep, and each stage is vital to well-being. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep for example, opens the door to dreaming. Dr. Rubin Naiman, a sleep specialist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona, says, “Dreaming is a kind of psychological yoga” that contributes to emotional wellness. Naiman adds, “Dreams in the first part of the night appear to process and diffuse residual negative emotion from the waking day; dreams later in the night then integrate this material into one’s sense of self.” Dreams are clearly good kid medicine.

As for me, I see dreams as a channel through which our loved ones who have died can make themselves seen and heard with a hello from heaven. Similarly, I believe that dreams are a vehicle through which the higher self will impart wisdom, and that can help recalibrate, re-energize or redirect our spirited kids during their waking hours. For me, dreamtime is simply a must-time and that’s why I’d like to see all spirited kids sleeping like babies!

So what can you do to ensure your kids are getting their beauty sleep?

  • Evaluate your kids’ sleep! Use the guidelines provided by the National Sleep Foundation to evaluate whether your kids are getting enough sleep. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, says, “If your kids are falling asleep in the car or while watching TV, that’s a red flag. Also, if they’ve been consistently sleeping longer during the summer vacation than during school time, it’s a clear indicator that your child probably wasn’t getting enough sleep during the school year,” and a change needs to be made.
  • Educate your children about the benefits of sleep. We teach our kids about the benefits of healthy eating and exercise, but do we educate them about the merits of enough sleep? If the answer is no, give your kids the low down about sleep and help them to make good sleep choices, themselves.
  • Cool off and shut down! August is a great month to adjust your kids’ bedtime routine in preparation for the new school year. It’s also a hot month! So cool off that room, black out the light and shut off those distractions like the TV, computer and phone! While your kids may not thank you in the short term, they’ll thank you in the long term as they rest, relax and renew.
  • Clean up and create a soulful sleeping environment. Sleep offers sanctuary to weary kids. Ensure your kids’ bedrooms are a sanctuary, too, and have them clear their clutter and junk and invite them to create a sacred sleeping space with plants, crystals and meaningful objects that will soothe their soul and encourage restful sleep.
  • Cut the caffeine! Drinking coffee, caffeinated soda or energy drinks in the evening will keep your kids up, up, up. So just say no and help your kids re-energize with sleep, instead!
  • Just add prayers! All kids go through some period of wakefulness as they grow. Teach your kids to self-soothe with spirituality. Going inward and turning upward is a beautiful process that tunes your child into their spirit. Prayers of gratitude, prayers for others and prayers for help will quiet their mind, heal their heart and pave the way for restorative sleep.
  • Reflexology! If your child is restless prior to bed, take a little body lotion and spend a few moments massaging their feet! Foot reflexology is a great way to promote sleep. There are many nerve endings in our feet; relaxing the feet can help relax the entire body. Not only will your child fall into a beautiful slumber, you’ll have enjoyed a little sole (soul) time together, too.

Sleep — we all need it and none more so than our growing kids. So ensure your kids get their sleep (and not just forty winks of it) and help your kids feel great, mind, (out of) body and rested spirit!

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Nadine Penny attained her M.A. from the University of Denver in Counseling Psychology. Nadine lives in Minnetonka where she works as a medium, life issues reader and Reiki master. Contact her at nadine.penny@gmail.com and visit www.nadinepenny.com.

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