The idea of providing education about sleep within our children’s health programs in school is a novel one, but one that should be seriously considered. Most people think of sleep as something that comes naturally and that is an unchanging aspect of our lives, but our sleep requirements change dramatically as we age; every aspect, including how much rest we need, what time we go to sleep and how much of our time is spent dreaming or not, changes as we progress from infancy, to childhood, from teenage years to middle and old age. Our lack of knowledge about these changes can lead to health problems and even dangerous situations as we get older, and all of these problems could be minimized with a little bit of basic guidance, much like that which is offered regarding nutrition.
Think about the way that we learn about nutrition: from the time that we are in preschool we are being taught about the benefits of balanced meals, and of the importance of eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. The process of teaching these lessons to children never really stops – it just becomes more detailed and complex as their understanding grows. Even when we are in the adult world we are constantly learning about food and the way that providing the proper fuel for our body can help us prevent illness and maintain optimal health. Nutritionists are often an important part of the integrated health care approach used in treating a number of patients and conditions, ranging from pregnancy to cancer.
Now contrast that with the way that the topic of sleep is discussed in our schools, or how frequently a sleep specialist is consulted when a patient is seeking treatment. The assumption is that the patient is not only aware of how much sleep they need but also that they are getting the proper amount of sleep, when in fact most people are not at all knowledgeable about how their rest requirements change as they age, or how a lack of sleep may impact their overall health.
When it comes to sleep, we are sorely in need of the same kind of educational and holistic approach that is taken with food. We spend roughly one third of our lives asleep, and yet somehow it is something that is taken for granted. Not only is this attitude resulting in a decrease in productivity and an increased risk of vehicular deaths, it is also robbing our students of achieving their highest potential in the classroom, and our innovators of the possibility of achieving even greater heights of creativity.
There is a real need in our society to recognize that skipping sleep, though it may be socially convenient, is as dangerous to our well being as eating unhealthy fast foods or not getting the exercise that we need. When we start educating ourselves about how to improve the quality of our sleep, on how much sleep we need and how to make it a priority we will start seeing a drop in the number of people suffering from sleep deprivation, insomnia and other sleep disorders.