I have one son who is almost 4 years old and another son who is almost 6 months. Sleep can be a hard-sought luxury, and my wife can speak to this even better than I can. One thing I have noticed, as any parent can tell you, is that infants and young children show dramatic behavioral and emotional changes when they are tired. My eldest son will just have these massive breakdowns when he’s sleep deprived. For example, one time it was about 2 hours past his bedtime, and he also hadn’t had a nap that day. I think I flushed the toilet for him, and he just fell apart. Between sobs he would gasp, “But I wanted to flush the toilet!” He was beyond consoling and oh, how I tried!
When I wake my son up for school in the morning and he has not had enough sleep, he will just break down crying right from the start. In contrast, when he has had enough sleep he is a delight in the mornings. About a week ago he slept in an extra hour on the weekend. When he awoke, he saw me reading the paper and a wide smile broke across his face. He exclaimed, “I love you, Daddy!” and ran over to give me a hug. Now that sure beats being villified for flushing the toilet for him!
Last weekend, for various reasons, I only got 4 hours of sleep. I found myself, despite my best efforts, being very cranky the whole day. I kept apologizing to my wife for being so irritable. My emotional regulation was just not good at all. I won’t even mention that it was Mother’s Day (I was partially redeemed because I had stayed up late working on a nice present).
It struck me that as an adult, I’m much like my sons. I might not break down in sobs when I’m tired, but I sure find myself becoming easily irritated and short. I also notice that my entire outlook is slightly more pessimistic. Although we might be able to mask the effects of sleep deprivation in various ways better than children (hello, Starbuck’s) , I think we are negatively affected by sleep loss just as our kids are.
I hate to be on my soapbox about this, but I again encourage you to take the “Sleep Challenge.” Try getting about 8 hours of sleep for about 1 week straight and see if you notice a difference. When you are feeling tired all the time, the answer is not more coffee. For many adults and children who think the might have ADHD/ADD because of ongoing attention problems, before you pursue stimulant medication I encourage you to try to get more sleep and see what effect this has.
When I was younger, I used to think that sleep was overrated and that I functioned just fine on 5-6 hours per night. I wore that as a badge of honor. I did notice that I was often forgetful, had difficulty paying attention, experienced some short-term memory problems, etc. I thought I might have ADHD until I started reading more on the effects of sleep deprivation and began getting more sleep. I noticed an immediate positive impact.
That’s why I keep bringing up the importance of sleep in my blogs. It’s such a simple change to make that can have such a huge impact on your life. It’s worth taking the “Sleep Challenge” for a week. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain – not just more sleep but a better life and a better you.