Go to Sleep Little Baby

A BBC newsreader nods off on camera, to general amusement. YouTube includes many similar clips. These are funny as incidents but they betoken an underlying public health and safety problem.

As my colleague Professor Bill Dement, perhaps the world’s foremost expert on sleep, has pointed out, sleep deprivation is widespread in the U.S. and a significant risk factor for accidental injuries. It also probably shortens lifespan. This is one of the realities that is obvious to people in poor and developing countries, but seems to elude many “more advanced” people in the developed world.

It’s almost as if people in developed societies think that caffeine, Ambien and a go-go lifestyle can overcome our animal nature. Forget it, we need to sack out. This isn’t rocket science: When in doubt, rack out.

Sleep deprivation doesn’t just affect adults. I have met many mentally healthy, loving and intelligent parents who seem not to understand the importance of sleep to their children. When such people ask me for a referral for a child psychiatrist because their little one is chronically cranky, difficult, has low attention span, cries frequently, has poor appetite etc., I say “I can arrange that for you, but let me ask you: How much sleep does your child get each night?”.

When the answer is (and it often is) something like “I don’t know exactly, we put him to bed sometime between 9 and midnight, depending on when me and my spouse get to bed”, I suggest that before they go running to a child psychiatrist, they give a regular bed time and more sleep for the child a shot. Often that’s all there is to it. An irregular bed time and only 6 or 7 hours of sleep a night is hard enough for most adults; in little ones it’s flat out brutal.

Anyway, it’s late here, so I’m going to bed. G’Night.

p.s. The sf/fantasy writer Roger Zelazny had some wonderful quotes about sleep

From Knight of Shadows: Sleep is perhaps the only among life’s great pleasures which need not be of short duration

From the Isle of the Dead: Of all the things a man may do, sleep probably contributes most to keeping him sane. It puts brackets about each day. If you do something foolish or painful today, you get irritated if somebody mentions it, today. If it happened yesterday, though, you can nod or chuckle, as the case may be. You’ve crossed through nothingness or dream to another island in Time

There is also one I couldn’t find on line from, I think, This Immortal…something like of all earthly pleasures, food, laughter, love and sex, sleep is the best.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

6 thoughts on “Go to Sleep Little Baby”

  1. “It’s almost as if people in developed societies think that caffeine, Ambien and a go-go lifestyle can overcome our animal natures.”

    Nah, that requires Modafinil.

  2. It’s only anecdotal, but the children of my friends and colleagues who were the biggest pills were those whose parents said, “Oh, they don’t need that much sleep.” Uh huh.

    1. Modern schedules don’t tend to allow for enough sleep for kids and adolescents, at least during the school year. Depending on school district and location, many kids have to be up by 6 or sometimes earlier to catch the buses. So 9 hours of sleep means down by 9, which means bedtime by 830 or 8, which pretty much runs right into the end of supper for anyone with a commute. (Oh, and in many modern dwellings having the kids asleep and the parents up and about is not an acoustical option.)

      We can blame not only suburban sprawl for this but also the penury of local school funding and consequent privatization of most school bus service. The private companies set bus schedules (and hence effectively school hours) according to what maximizes utilization of buses and drivers, rather than what’s best for students or teachers.

  3. Of all pleasures – a drink of cold water when you are thirsty, liquor when you are not, sex, a cigarette after many days without one – there is none of them that can compare with sleep. Sleep is best.

  4. OK as a child my parents would never understand 1). why I would not go to sleep

    2). why I would wake up early, every day, rain or shine

    Still do, even 50 years later.

    What I can say is I finally learned as an adult not to fight insomnia. If not tired, turn on light, read.

    When at age 12 or so my parents and I finally came to this neutrality (remember in that day and age, a lightswitch made a ‘click’ audible through the house) then we had a better relationship. If I could not sleep, I would sit up in bed and read.

    It’s not that I don’t get tired (didn’t). It’s just that I don’t sleep (or sleep some other time).

    The more kids and parents can agree that if you don’t feel like sleeping, as long as you do something quiet (eg when you get up to use the loo, you do not flush it), something like reading (surfing the net or watching TV would not count) then trying to ‘make’ a kid sleep, when in fact there are underlying causes (in my case probably stress) just does not help.

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