Now that I’m well back into the Middle Ages, hammering out a final scheme for the second book in the series, I’m increasingly aware of how little time I have left. That spring deadline is looming large and near.

So I’m always trying to find a few extra hours to work–especially since two of my working afternoons fall on Friday and Saturday, periods which are often cut short by social engagements of various kinds. The most tempting solution is to get up early and/or stay up late to work, something which I’ve always ben willing to do. At the best of times I get seven hours of sleep a night. Six hours is typical. Four to five hours is often the case when I’m working on a project full-time.

Last week my doctor remarked to me that losing sleep causes you to gain weight; your body interprets lack of rest as stress, and tries to make up for it by demanding more calories. And this morning, New York Magazine informed me that THIS is the best thing I can do for my history-stressed brain:

The Mag reports that half of all adolescents get LESS than seven hours of sleep per night–and that this can cause them to perform two to three grades below level.

Here’s an excerpt…


Half of all adolescents get less than seven hours of sleep on weeknights. By the time they are seniors in high school, according to studies by the University of Kentucky, they average only slightly more than 6.5 hours of sleep a night…..It has been documented in a handful of major studies that children, from elementary school through high school, get about an hour less sleep each night than they did 30 years ago. While parents obsess over babies’ sleep, this concern falls off the priority list after preschool. Even kindergartners get 30 minutes less a night than they used to….

The surprise is how much sleep affects academic performance and emotional stability, as well as phenomena that we assumed to be entirely unrelated, such as the international obesity epidemic and the rise of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder….

Dr. Avi Sadeh of Tel Aviv University is one of the authorities in the field. A couple of years ago, Sadeh sent 77 fourth-graders and sixth-graders home with randomly drawn instructions to either go to bed earlier or stay up later for three nights….The first group managed to get 30 minutes more sleep per night. The latter got 31 minutes less sleep.

After the third night’s sleep, a researcher went to the school in the morning to test the children’s neurobiological functioning….The performance gap caused by an hour’s difference in sleep was bigger than the normal gap between a fourth-grader and a sixth-grader. Which is another way of saying that a slightly sleepy sixth-grader will perform in class like a mere fourth-grader. “A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development,” Sadeh explains.

Sadeh’s findings are consistent with other researchers’ work, all of which points to the large academic consequences of small sleep differences….


Wow. (The rest of the article, well worth reading, is here.)

As a home school mom, I have absolutely no impetus to get my children up early; they sleep until 8 AM unless they wake up before, and at our house no one under twenty keeps the light on past 10 PM. In fact, one reason I’ll probably never put my kids back into secondary school is that I’d have to start rousting them out of bed at a painful and ungodly hour to get them off to class.

But I’m usually pretty cavalier about depriving myself of sleep. It’s counterintuitive to think: I’ll write more if I stay awake less. This week I’m going to try to work against my instincts, though, and sleep a little more.

Showing 11 comments
  • e

    Sleep is decidedly good for you.

    While it’s counter-inuitive, sleep and exercise help you focus and get more done.

    So go! you. Sleep and take a break.

  • Tammy

    Fascinating! Like you, I never wake a sleeping child… with 5 boys, I actually try to make as little noise as possible before they come to life in the morning. But I never think about how it affects me. Thanks for sharing.

  • strider

    This is a message I need to take to heart as well. Thanks for posting–good luck in your endeavors!

  • Jennifer in OR

    I agree, I am so not worried about my own lack of sleep, but obsess over my children getting enough. I think I’ll go to bed now. 🙂

  • Jenny

    Thank you! That article and your posting about waking kids at ungodly hours will make great additions to my “Why I Homeschool” arsenal, which I am forced to deploy on a daily basis by those who bug me about not “letting” my kids go to public school! 🙂


  • Cynthia

    Very good article. I always go to bed when my children do that way I can get up a few hours before them to enjoy my coffee and get ready for the day. And I still get a good 8 hours of sleep. So good luck everyone, remember sleep is so very important.

  • Cathy

    Your sense of humor cracks me up. I love the picture of the back of your head. My boys and I are reading volume 2 and just finished making the “jade beads” from China. My six year old said I could wear the necklace and have it. I will treasure forever! Thanks for making it so interesting. Well, off to sleep!!!!

  • Sylvia

    You know, it all sounds very good, but when it comes down to it, you have to work when it’s quiet, and often that’s when the four kids are sleeping–at night. It is one of the hard but true facts of homeschooling and working. I am in the same boat, so when you’re ignoring your doctor’s advice and the New York Times, I’m with you into the wee hours (but decidedly NOT in the early ones).

  • Craig

    In Fairfax County, middle school begins at 7:25 a.m., meaning that my daughter gets up at 5:30. That’s pretty painful and ungodly.

    I’m half-way through the book and having a great time. Thank you.

  • Helen Martin

    Usually someone in our family of seven has a bad cold with a fever by Halloween, and generally the plague isn’t over until just days before–if not after–Thanksgiving. (New ones make appearances all winter as they will.)

    I’m highly motivated to do what I can to avoid this phenomena during our first year of home educating our oldest four kids. Sleep is a big part of the strategy, along with their built-in defense of not being exposed to the other wee “carriers” all day.

    So far so good! In fact, it’s been so good that I nearly forgot my plan. Just this morning I was thinking that I should start waking them earlier to get going with home schooling! (Some days we don’t “finish” until dinner time.) But this information is just as compelling as why I started letting them sleep-in in the first place, and a good reminder to let sleeping kids dream!

  • cindy

    I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to your Medieval History book. I’ve been reading the Ancients and loving it. In fact, a little tidbit I found in your book provided the inspiration for a YA historical fiction book I’m writing.

    Anyway, regarding sleep: last year I was in bed by 10 PM and up at 3:30 AM. I felt fine, but gained 10 lbs and started losing my hair. I think there’s something to be said for getting enough sleep…even if it means less time for writing.

    On that note, goodnight! 🙂

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