Sleep is serious business. If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial, from the point of view of the United States of America Department of the Army. A major point, emphasized by the Army, is that more sleep produces more benefits for Soldiers. Also, more sleep produces more benefits for children. Even small amounts of extra sleep help (Blog Post 6). At every age!
Another point made by the army is: “Most Soldiers who regularly obtain a little less sleep every 24 hours pay a price: they unwittingly [Subjective blindness to sleepiness] but steadily accrue a significant sleep debt, characterized by increasingly suboptimal alertness, reduced mental sharpness, and an impaired ability to recover from stress. These Soldiers typically believe they are fine [Subjective blindness to sleepiness] and may perform most basic duties adequately. From an objective standpoint, their alertness and mental acuity is significantly (and invariably) impaired.” And “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.” And “Although chronically sleep-restricted Soldiers [Children and 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.”
The Army is clear about who is in charge: “Planning for sleep is a leader [Parent] competency”
When we are often mildly or moderately sleepy, we might not sense that we are short on sleep or appreciate the consequences of not being optimally alert. In other words, we tend to be subjectively blind to our own sense of sleepiness or sleep deficits. One study in adults who were experimentally sleep deprived showed the expected decreases in performance, but they lacked subjective feelings of sleepiness. The authors wrote, “that those who are chronically sleep deprived may no longer be capable of reliably appraising their own sleepiness. This may explain why sleep restriction is widely practiced: People have the subjective impression that they have adapted to it because they don’t feel particularly sleepy.” Also, an adult, short on sleep, feeling sleepy, is more likely to say, “I feel tired”, which suggests having performed effortful work, (which might imply being productive, which is good) instead of saying “I feel sleepy” which might suggest that he lacks energy or stamina (a sign of weakness, which is bad).
If parents lack self-awareness about their own sleep loss, then it should come as no surprise that they might fail to appreciate subtle harmful effects of sleep loss in their children. This is such an important point; I wish to restate it: It is possible that some parents are so unaware of how impaired they are by their own sleep deprivation that they are unable to appreciate the extent to which sleep deprivation is harming their child. I suspect that this explains why otherwise observant and loving parents (who are nevertheless short on sleep themselves) allow their child to become sleep deprived, with all of its attendant problems. And if the children are too often mildly short on sleep, they themselves might not develop a strong sense of how different it feels to be completely well rested versus mildly sleepy.