Blog Post 5

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain,
A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep.
(For Every Age)

“Sleep Readiness” is the title of Chapter 11 of the United States of America Department of the Army field manual (FM 7-22) that prepares young men and women to become soldiers.  It is the official document that describes how all young recruits will acquire necessary skills during the process that is sometimes referred to as basic training or “boot camp.”  Updated in 2020, it is based on empirical data using traditional scientific methods.  I have lightly edited, added emphasis, and condensed Chapter 11 in order to show you how “Sleep Readiness” can also help parents help their child sleep better.

Initially, I will post parts of Chapter 11 (Blog Posts 1 through 5) to emphasize the value of healthy sleep and then I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length; for now, only read the single, age-appropriate Chapter for your child.  Later, if you wish, read Chapters on What is Healthy Sleep, Why Healthy Sleep is Important, and Preventing Sleep problems.  Finally, if needed, read the Chapter on Sleep Solutions.

            Let’s go!

Chapter 11
Sleep Readiness

From the United States of America Department of the Army field manual (FM 7-22)

LEADERSHIP’S ROLE

            While good leadership [Parenting] is essential for a wide range of unit [Family] outcomes, leadership behaviors that target sleep can improve the sleep habits of unit members [Children] and the unit’s overall sleep culture.  Sleep leadership behavior includes promotion of sleep awareness and the development and implementation of local policies [Bedtimes] that facilitate the ability of subordinates [Children] to practice good sleep hygiene.  An example of sleep awareness is ensuring that subordinates [Children] understand the importance of sleep for health and readiness, as well as the negative consequences of sleep loss.  Think of sleep as an item of logistical resupply, like beans and bullets and plan accordingly.  Sleep is essential to health and readiness.  To optimize Soldier’s [Children’s] alertness and performance, leaders [Parents] maintain as consistent and regimented sleep-wake schedule as possible (optimize sleep timing) with an adequate amount of sleep opportunity (optimize sleep duration).  Leaders [Parents] also ensure that the sleep-wake schedule conforms as closely as possible to the brain’s natural circadian rhythm to optimize both duration and quality of sleep.

PLANNING FOR PERIODS OF INSUFFIENT SLEEP

            Effective leaders [Parents] consider sleep an item of logistical resupply like water, food, fuel, and ammunition.  Sleep management optimizes Soldier’s [Children’s] performance in austere conditions.  Sleep is a force multiplier.  In healthy persons, there is no such thing as too much sleep.  The goal in all operational scenarios [Home, School, Playground, etc.] should always be to maximize sleep duration because more sleep always results in greater alertness, resilience, and mental activity-greater readiness.

OVERALL STRATEGY

            When mission requirements [Specific family circumstances or events] do not allow for adequate sleep, the goal becomes twofold: to optimize alertness and performance during waking periods to the extent possible and to maximize the ability of Soldiers [Children] to take advantage of any opportunities for sleep that do occur. A factor that determines the extent to which alertness and performance are impacted by sleep loss is individual differences in sensitivity and resistance to the effects of sleep loss.

            No one can maintain alertness and performance indefinitely without sleep, but some individuals are more impacted by sleep loss than others.  Individual differences are determined by both genetics and sleep history or habitual sleep.  Leaders [Parents] evaluate a Soldier’s [Child’s] performance since insufficient sleep impairs the ability to self-assess [Subjective blindness to sleepiness].  As a rule, sleep-deprived Soldiers [Children] will overestimate their own capabilities.

            Jet lag, social jet lag, and shift work [Late bedtimes or staying up late for schoolwork or social activities] tend to result in misalignment of circadian rhythm.  Avoid alcohol since it exacerbates sleepiness and mental deficits as well as impairs sleep.  Avoid over-the-counter sleep aids.  These compounds do not improve sleep and they can impair post-awakening alertness and mental activity.  Avoid over-the-counter melatonin since it does not increase actual sleep time.

            The notion that one can adapt to sleep loss is a myth.  Although Soldiers [Children] generally benefit from training as they fight [Learn], this does not hold true for sleep loss.  Soldiers [Children] cannot be trained to perform better on less sleep.  Although chronically sleep-restricted Soldiers [Children (or parents)] do become accustomed to a reduced level of alertness, which they think is normal [Subjective blindness to sleepiness], objective assessments to reveal deficits show that there is no evidence of habituation or adaptation to sleep loss.  Although Soldiers [Children] cannot train to perform better on less sleep, they can bank sleep.  Sleep banking is achieved be significantly extending the nightly time in bed for multiple consecutive nights prior to embarking on a mission that is likely to result in inadequate sleep [Travel to participate in an athletic competition or public performance].  Soldiers [Children] best accomplish sleep extension by going to bed earlier [Early bedtimes] because awakening at the same time each morning helps to sustain and strengthen the brain’s circadian rhythm of alertness.

            The restorative effects of sleep accrue primarily to the brain and are primarily manifested as improved cognitive performance.  Accordingly, it is especially important that leaders [Parents] and others engaged in higher-order cognitive tasks-such as mission planning, decision making, risk assessment, and problem solving-are afforded and take full advantage of opportunities to obtain adequate sleep.  Planning for sleep in training and tactical environments is a leader [Parent] competency.

(End of Chapter 11, Army field manual FM 7-22.)

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