Health and Wellness

Sleep Science

As a physician, I feel somewhat like an expert on operating with a chronic lack of sleep. The training requirements of medical school and residency can be difficult and require functioning with little to no rest. Sleep Science is of particular interest to parents. When adding in the excitement of playing with three small kids after a day at work, it is easy to forget how comfortable a real bed is.

A normal day at the office requires me to be alert and responsive to the needs of several patients. I assume most parents suffer through the work day knowing they will be heading home at 5 o’clock for their ritual flogging from the tiny humans waiting for them. It is difficult to explain to the kid-less population why I never want to go “out” on a friday night. It is not because I am anti-social, but because sleep is so much more “fun” for me.

For children, sleep is a developmental milestone. It is an extremely important aspect of their cognitive development. When babies are born, they often sleep in short bursts only to wake up with a not-so-subtle burst of rage and confusion. I like to imagine they are like miniature drunken college students whose friends waited for them to pass out only to play a horrible trick and waking them instantly. Every child I have ever seen goes through this phase. They sleep so peacefully for an hour or so and as a parent, we celebrate the victory of surviving their waking moments like a roman gladiator. Some of us celebrate with tv time, others a glass of wine. However you decompress is not as important as just finding a way to brace for the next impact.

After some time, those little tyrants eventually wake up. It all starts like popping a pimple; you can feel the pressure building but nothing is happening and then… omg does it happen. A nice relaxing quiet hour instantly becomes the loudest house on the block. There is something about the frequency or melodic tone of a high pitch baby scream. It literally makes my ear drum shake and I feel my teeth clenching. The sound is something every parent is well aware of and something we all secretly fear.

Once they are awake, the battle begins. We typically don our armor of a diaper and wipes, anticipating the onslaught of what appears to be split pea soup. We trade our wine glass or tv remote for our favorite weapon of choice… the bottle of milk or perhaps the infamous binky. Whatever we have available to redirect the rage and appease the waking beast is like winning the lottery.

How quickly things change… Its reminiscent of a rapid cycling borderline personality disorder. The peaceful sleepiness, the rage monster, and then the playful happy baby. The goal for the next few hours is keep them happy, fed, and active. I don’t worry about keeping them clean, as they will inevitably find a way to win that battle. The real challenge here is keeping them active.

As important as sleep is to a developing mind, stimulation is equally important during waking hours. Burning off the energy in a playful and constructive manner allows for kids to develop important skills for later in life and also doubles to wear them out faster. This means we get more sleep because they get more sleep.

This brings me back to my original point. Sleep is amazing. Let them sleep. Regardless of where it happens. Let them sleep. Even if it is not nap time, or you think it will ruin their bedtime, just let them sleep. No matter how tired you are, they still need it more than you do.


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