Survive vs. Thrive. Or, "I went to school at 7:30 and I turned out fine."

This isn’t really a question, but we hear it frequently. We are continually surprised by this comment because it is so much like saying, “my mom smoked and drank while pregnant and I turned out OK.” Or “I didn’t use a car seat or seatbelt and I survived.”

Sure, we survived. And most kids today will also survive the chronic sleep deprivation of their teen years.

But what many people who survived starting at 7:30 don’t understand is: Like the drunk guy who insists he isn’t too drunk to drive home, we do not know how sleep-deprived we are when we are sleep-deprived. “With chronic sleep restriction over months or years, an individual will actually acclimate to their impaired performance, lower alertness, and reduced energy levels. That low-level exhaustion becomes their accepted norm, or baseline. Individuals fail to recognize how their perennial state of sleep deficiency has come to compromise their mental aptitude and physical vitality, including the slow accumulation of ill health.” (p. 137) Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker, PhD.

Is this state of chronic exhaustion what we want for our children during the formative years of their lives? This in exchange for what? To save a few tax dollars, for a little more time after school to fill with homework and 3 hours of sports practice?

Should we ignore the substantial body of evidence that our kids would be much better off with later start times and more sleep, just because we didn’t know better 20 years ago? Don’t we pay to remove asbestos from our schools and lead from our drinking water, things we did not always know were harmful? Do we let our teens smoke just because we did so as teenagers?

Matthew Walker, PhD, in Why We Sleep, writes, “Without change we will simply perpetuate a vicious cycle wherein each generation of our children are stumbling through the education system in a half-comatose state, chronically sleep-deprived for years on end, stunted in their mental and physical growth as a consequence and failing to maximize their true success potential, only to inflict that same assault on their own children decades later…I hope we can change. I hope we can break the parent-to-child transmission of sleep neglect..When sleep is abundant, minds flourish. When it is deficient, they don’t.