Kate, David’s mother, was one of many parents who inspired the section on ‘hurriedness’ in my book, BUT I’M NOT TIRED! The nature of sleep and how to nurture it in children and teenagers.
Eight-year-old David suffers from a common condition that I call ‘hurriedness’. At our first session, he slumped back into one of my armchairs and languidly listened to his mum, Kate, describe him as a bubbly, hyperactive, restless and oppositional child.
Kate’s portrayal of David was glaringly at odds with his flat demeanour.
“David”, I asked, somewhat baffled, “How come your mum just told me that you’re so restless, but you’re sitting so still now?”
In response, he glowered at his mum with his saucer-shaped hazel eyes. On the brink of tears and with lips quivering, he slowly replied, “Because my mum makes me tired.” He turned to his mum. “You make me do too many things mum, and you never listen when I tell you that I’m too tired to do everything…” His voice rose to a crescendo, “And I just want to go home, mum!”
When I asked him what animal he is most alike, he frowned and looked away. After a few seconds, he sternly reiterated: “I’m a kangaroo, ‘cos after school, mum makes me jump all over the place.”
Kate shot back at him with a seething monologue, as if deceived. “But you said you wanted to do tennis and robotics because all your friends are doing them. And, you’re very good at tennis, so the coach thinks you should do the early morning practice. You wanted to play the violin, and there’s not much point in learning if you don’t practice, and quite honestly, if you want to go to the beach, you have to learn to swim. Why do you suddenly complain to Jennifer? And,…”
Kate faced me to justify the schedule, “I don’t want him to miss out, Jennifer!”
Wired and tired
David is a ‘hurried child’, a term that describes the increasing number of young people who are over-serviced with extra-curricular activities to the point of sleepless exhaustion. In many middle-class communities, hurried elementary children are the norm. Before and after school they hurry here, they hurry there; they and their parents hurry everywhere.
By the time David arrives home in the evening, he is overstimulated and, by his admission, extremely tired. He does homework between flurries of hurries, and after dinner he is expected to practice the violin.
Kate describes how he punctuates each belated sleep ritual activity with hyperactive diversions and a screaming match with his parents. “How can we not shout?” Kate asks, rhetorically. “He takes a half an hour to go to get into his pyjamas and he chases his brother around the house while he’s brushing his teeth!”
At night, David is wired with hurriedness but tired nevertheless. No surprises then: he has trouble falling asleep. And, he’s one of many in a similar situation. In a 2014 poll conducted by the United States National Sleep Association, over thirty percent of parents reported that their children’s busy schedules disrupt their sleep patterns.
What’s Kate to do?
So, what should Kate do? Keep up with the Joneses and provide every possible enrichment opportunity so that David has an edge in an increasingly competitive world? Or ensure that David is relaxed and tired – a much better condition for sleep?
If David’s extra-curricular activities were whittled down to a more manageable level, he’d probably be tranquil and tired. This condition is a precursor to a good night’s sleep. Within his new schedule, he’d also benefit from downtime – electronics free, child-directed, free time, to chill and do – whatever. Unregulated playtime is not only essential for his healthy development; it also provides a necessary counterbalance to his highly structured ‘hurriedness’.
No doubt, David’s parents are pulled in conflicting directions: They have an Opportunities versus Sleep dilemma. But, given the ramifications of a sleep debt, I know which way I’d choose.
To get more information on issues about the nature and nurture of sleep in children and teenagers, why not take a look at my book: BUT I’M NOT TIRED!
Names, locales, people and incidents have been fictitiously created by the author. Any resemblance to actual people, places or individuals is completely coincidental.