It would be nice to think the kids are alright, but they're not. American children are getting bigger and fatter, their brains so overloaded and interrupted they're not learning well. These facts may compromise our nation's future health and its economic competitiveness.
Fortunately, things can markedly improve. Unlike machines, our human bodies continuously build and renew themselves, an exceptionally quick and powerful process in kids. Diet and exercise are part of that picture, but rest has been sorely neglected. Rest is like food, required to construct and rewire the body, and food and rest require each other to work. Here are six important ways where smart, active rest can help kids assure their future:
Rest Advantage 1: Learn and Earn
Sleep and rest are critical to learning. "Sleep on it" is good advice for kids and adults, because in sleep we create and rebuild memories, putting the vast information gained during the day into usable form.
Kids ages 3-5 on average need 11-13 hours sleep, those 5-12 about 10-11 hours, and teenagers around 9.5 hours of sleep to awake alert and ready to learn. As puberty knocks off about a third of teenagers' brain cell connections, teenagers need lots of rest to remake their brains. Their changed biological clocks also make them go to bed and get up later. Add the internet and early school times and teenagers obtain somewhere between 6.5 and 7.5 hours of sleep. Studies at St. George's School in Rhode Island demonstrate that later school times produce happier and more productive kids, while more sleep produces better grades.
Long term memories built during rest are kids' "brain earnings," what they will depend on throughout life for judgment and creativity. You want them to have the chance to become the boss, not the flunkey, and that means they need to learn to rest -- now.
Sleep less, weigh more. Recent students show teenagers who sleep less than nine hours at night are already gaining weight. Childhood obesity is skyrocketing worldwide. By itself obesity itself causes inflammation and physiologic and psychological stress, threatening kids with future diabetes, a poor self image and shortened lifespans.
Procedural memory, the kind you get from hitting a jump shot or pitching a baseball, absolutely requires rest. Experiments done with various Stanford University teams showed markedly improved performance when kids were asked to sleep more. The swim team knocked a half second off their 15 meter times, while football players showed similar improvements.
Kids worry about all the tests they must take to progress and get into a "good" university. Test taking anxiety often dramatically worsens results. Active rest techniques like paradoxical relaxation, self hypnosis, deep breathing and ear popping take minutes to learn and seconds to use, and quickly produce the relaxed concentration needed to perform your best on tests.
Sleep less, feel worse. Insomnia is a real curse, and between the internet, text messaging, video games, cell phones and TV, kids are getting a lot less rest than they need. That makes them cranky, tired, irritable and far more prone to depression.
Sustained achievement requires sustained attention. Often kids are multimodally multitasking, supremely unaware that the human brain only does one thing at a time. A buzzing, overloaded brain is both a recipe for poor learning and the experience, judgment and innovation needed for creativity. Kids need to know how to think so they can combine recently acquired and old knowledge to create the truly new.
Your Kids' Future
Tell kids they need to rest to succeed and most will ignore you. They'd rather text message that read a book, play video games than march outside and hit a baseball. So tell them:
Rest that combines social and spiritual techniques can provide them wholly new kinds of peak experiences.
Yet adults must also pay attention. American kids are not just competing with other Americans but the rest of the world. The future belongs to knowledge industries. Long-term memories are our brains "savings," and if kids don't have them, they won't effectively compete creating new knowledge, new products, new ideas. Rest is an issue not just for your kids, but the nation's economy.
To compete we are going to have to think very well. Sustained attention will be required for personal and national achievement. Rest is one critical way to obtain it, because using your body the way it's built is the only lifestyle that makes sense.
Follow Matthew Edlund, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/therestdoctor