Sleep It Does a Family Good: How Busy Families Can Overcome Sleep Deprivation

Sleep It Does a Family Good: How Busy Families Can Overcome Sleep Deprivation

by Archibald D. Hart
People today are sleep-deprived, and nowhere are the negative effects felt more acutely than in families. Most parents realize that their families aren’t getting enough sleep, though they likely don’t understand how serious the problem is and need help finding a solution. In this book, renowned psychologist and best-selling author Arch Hart explores why


People today are sleep-deprived, and nowhere are the negative effects felt more acutely than in families. Most parents realize that their families aren’t getting enough sleep, though they likely don’t understand how serious the problem is and need help finding a solution. In this book, renowned psychologist and best-selling author Arch Hart explores why sleep is so important, what happens when family members are chronically sleep deprived, and how families can start developing healthy sleep habits. Tyndale House Publishers

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Tyndale House Publishers
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how busy families can overcome sleep deprivation

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Archibald D. Hart
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-58997-609-2

Chapter One

So Your Family Can't Sleep!

A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by one after one; the sound of rain, and bees murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas, ... I've thought of all by turns, and still I lie Sleepless ...

Even thus last night, and two nights more I lay, And could not win thee, Sleep! By any stealth: So do not let me wear tonight away: Without Thee what is all the morning's wealth? -William Wordsworth, "To Sleep"

The call from Todd's school counselor came out of the blue. Fortunately Melissa, mother of 15-year-old Todd, was at home that morning. She wasn't feeling well and had taken the day off to rest.

"Mrs. Andrews, I am sorry to have to call you at home, but there is a problem with Todd's schoolwork that I need to talk to you about. When can we meet?"

Melissa had no idea that there was anything amiss. She called her husband, Jim, at work. "There's a problem with Todd at school, and the counselor wants to talk to us.... No, I have no idea what it's about; just tell me when you can be available so we can go see the counselor."

The counselor came right to the point. "I've received several reports from Todd's teachers that he falls asleep at hisdesk on a regular basis. They've tried chiding him, but it doesn't seem to be getting better. You need to look into the problem. Maybe he has a sleep disorder," the counselor suggested.

Jim and Melissa confronted Todd as soon as he came home from school. "It's no big deal. It's only happened a couple of times," he replied, dismissing the issue. But Melissa and Jim insisted on getting some help and came to my office for counseling.

At first, I met with only Jim and Melissa. I suggested they do a sleep assessment for Todd and gave them some tests to fill out, not unlike the assessment forms I'll present later. "And," I said, "please check Todd's cell phone records and see how often he uses his phone at night."

"Cell phone records?" Both seemed taken aback.

"Yes," I said, "cell phone records. Something must be keeping him awake until very late if you are sending him to bed at a reasonable hour. Trust me."

We soon found out that Todd had been text-messaging his friends until the early hours of the morning. He did it in the dark, under the covers, so his parents wouldn't know. It appeared that he was falling asleep around three o'clock most mornings, presumably from sheer exhaustion. He'd have kept going till sunrise otherwise. Todd did not have a sleep disorder-only lax family supervision! Welcome to the average American family.

A Sleepless Family

As a clinical psychologist, I also counsel couples with marital problems. I've seen a dramatic increase recently in marital conflicts that can be traced back to sleep problems. While we'll tackle the subject of marriage and sleep further in a later chapter, let's take a closer look at Melissa and Jim as an example. Aside from Todd's school problems, they had started having marital problems. Melissa was astute enough to link it to sleep deprivation as well. "We're becoming a sleepless family," she told me.

Melissa's main concern was with Jim. He had recently taken on a senior position at his company and was working longer and harder than ever before. It was not the hard work that was bothering her; she was confident he could handle that. But she had noticed subtle changes in his personality that had been upsetting her. He was becoming more irritable, less patient, and at times, even morose. Jim and Melissa had always prided themselves in having good communication skills as a couple, but lately Melissa just couldn't get a word through to him. What was most painful for Melissa was that their children had started to notice the change in their family atmosphere and were avoiding Jim because "he wasn't nice to be around anymore!"

As the three of us sat together in my office, Melissa said, "Jim isn't coming to bed as early as he did before. He seems restless and wants to stay up late. He keeps saying he's not ready for bed. And it's not that he's preoccupied with work or working on a project. It seems he just wants to veg out and watch TV or play on his computer. He calls it his 'downtime,' but it seems more like 'up time' to me."

Jim didn't deny any of her complaints. "Things have changed. Now that I'm the senior manager, I have more things to worry about. When I'm home, I need a break and some personal time."

With a few focused questions it became clear that Jim was also beginning to experience some health problems-problems that are often related to sleep difficulties. Most notable were the headaches that came on as soon as he got home from work. In a recent physical exam his doctor had noted that Jim was gaining weight, his cholesterol levels were high, his blood pressure was elevated, and there were signs he was pre-diabetic. Jim just shrugged off these concerns and said, "I'll worry about those things later."

Research has shown a link between poor sleep habits and sleep apnea, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even strokes, so I knew we needed to explore further Jim's sleep patterns. Sure enough, Jim admitted that he was now only sleeping about four or five hours a night, sometimes staying awake all night-or so it felt. I finally convinced him that he was living dangerously, and not only was his family life suffering, but his spiritual life was as well. He no longer took time to pray and was usually too tired to attend church with his family. "I'm just too busy for all that," was his excuse.

By this time, Melissa was also taking a closer look at their older daughter Amanda's sleeping habits. Amanda was a freshman away at college. Bright and always at the top of her class, she couldn't quite explain why her studies suddenly weren't going well. I provided a sleep-assessment questionnaire and determined quickly that Amanda was clearly not getting sufficient sleep to facilitate any effective learning. There were many distractions: She liked staying up late with her friends; she had joined a chorale group that practiced until late in the evening, and when she finally got back to her room, homework was waiting for her attention; her roommate also had bad sleeping habits; and so on. On top of all this, Amanda had fallen into the habit of spending hours on her laptop at night, chatting online with her friends.

Fortunately, Melissa and Jim took their therapy seriously, and while progress was slow, the marriage was saved and the kids eventually got on the road to right sleep. I can't say that every situation I've dealt with has always been that life transforming, but I can assure you that with determination and discipline, your family can change their sleep habits, and with that, change your life for the better.

My Passionate Embrace of Sleep

Of the many reasons why I chose to write this book, one stands out above all others: Bad sleeping habits in either children or parents can have a devastating effect on the spiritual, emotional, and physical health of the whole family.

Before I plunge too deeply into our understanding of sleep and sleep disorders, allow me to share some of my personal sleep journey with you. It was 28 years ago that I first became interested in sleep research and suspected I was sleep deprived. I had just become the dean of the graduate school of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, but I continued my research in the area of stress and stress-related disorders. Because I am somewhat of a driven person, and academia can be a "publish or perish" environment, continuing my research and writing was imperative.

Sleeping only about six hours a night in those days, I was struggling to get my writing done, felt a perpetual grogginess, and developed high blood pressure. I was preparing to publish the first edition of my book The Hidden Link Between Adrenaline and Stress, and had decided to include a chapter on sleep. Not much had been written about sleeplessness to that point. While there were those who were beginning to sound the alarm that we were losing our grip on sleep, by and large the idea was that sleeping too much could actually shorten your life, not prolong it. People were trying to find ways to stay awake, not get more sleep.

Up to that point in my life, therefore, my strategy was to try to get by with less sleep. My father only slept about six hours a night, and my brother, two years younger and a successful businessman, only slept for about four or five hours. We were pretty much a sleep-as-little-as-you-can clan.

My brother ran his own trucking business in South Africa and told me many times that the only way he could be successful in his business was to sleep as little as possible. Trucks had to work all night, and breakdowns were frequent. Customers expected on-time deliveries and accepted no excuses. So he became caffeine dependent, probably providing that industry with half its annual profits all by himself! Whereas he had chosen a business career, I eventually became a psychologist, went into academia, and immigrated to the USA.

My brother and I had always been very competitive. He boasted that he would be a millionaire before me. I responded by saying I would publish more books than he would. We both tried to eliminate sleep so we could pursue our dreams.

Then stark reality stepped in. My brother had his first heart attack. His doctor had warned him that he was working himself to death. He nearly died. I was struggling to write and research, but creativity seemed to elude me. I would go to my office to deal with all the hassles of running an academic program; then I'd go home and hit my typewriter. (This was before word processors!) I would normally get a chapter done before midnight, then crash into bed. I tossed and turned most of the night. And when I came back to that chapter the next day, it was all-too-often worthless.

So I began to explore some of the emerging research on sleeplessness. The message was clear: Lack of sleep produced more stress, not less. Sleeping less was a handicap, not a mark of superiority over other mortals. I learned that sleep isn't just a time to rest weary bodies, but it serves a whole constellation of functions, not the least of which is creative thinking. So I tried an experiment on myself. I reversed my strategy. Why not skip trying to write at night? I decided to try getting to bed early and then doing some writing the next morning, before going to the office.

Obviously, there was some trepidation here. I feared that taking more time to sleep would mean less time for my work. Surely, I thought, this would only make matters worse. But I went ahead and took the plunge. My secretary rearranged my appointments to start later in the morning after I had spent the first few hours reaping the benefits of a good night's sleep and then getting some writing done.

It only took a few days to convince me of the two principles I have followed ever since. First, getting to bed earlier, and as a consequence getting more sleep, works wonders for my brain. Second, creative tasks are best accomplished earlier in the day, rather than later. As I explain in my book The Hidden Link Between Adrenaline and Stress, your creativity is highest when your adrenaline arousal is at its lowest. My fear that spending more time sleeping would mean reduced time to do my work, and hence lower my productivity, was not justified. In fact, as I slowly increased my sleep time, to my amazement my efficiency and productivity increased. The time I lost by adding more sleep time was more than compensated for by my being able to work and write more efficiently. I made far fewer mistakes. My ideas came more easily. I completed my tasks faster.

And I have been a sleep propagandist ever since. I teach it; I preach it. And now, as we will see, there is abundant research evidence to support my contention that the benefits of getting more sleep are more than compensated for by improved efficiency. I have proven over and over again that when I am well rested, I am at my best in every sense-even as a husband, as my wife will attest. This can be true for you as well. As we go through this book together, I'll help you determine the right amount of sleep for yourself and your family. So keep reading!

Sleep Is Essential to a Full Life

As I lay the foundation for understanding sleep, there is an important point I need to stress up front-and it's really a theological one. I cannot get away from the belief that God has designed sleep into us as a fundamental need, as fundamental as eating food and breathing air. In ancient times this need was more clearly understood. But in our modern times, the need for sleep is often misunderstood and even dismissed as unimportant by many, including some in the medical establishment.

One of the severest insomniac patients I have ever seen was a physician who abused his sleep patterns. He shared with me once that he believed sleep was some sort of evolutionary mistake; that we really don't need as much sleep as we think we need. Unfortunately, his sleep deprivation led to a severe addiction problem. To this day, I don't think he has resolved his addiction to self-prescribed drugs and alcohol.

Since it's so important in shaping our sleep attitudes, let me drive the "fundamental need" point home a little further. Sleep is not an evolutionary accident, as some would make out. God designed sleep to be an essential drive in nature. All nature sleeps. Even trees sleep in the winter months. Their sleep cycle is one year, unlike ours, which is one day. Some animals sleep all winter. Imagine what would happen if they all rebelled and refused to hibernate for the winter! Right now it's wintertime where I live, and my whole garden has gone to sleep! It's drab and brown-a literal eyesore. But I know that it will awaken in the spring and be beautiful once again.

Even though many millions of us are tired every day and know that we are not getting enough sleep, we turn a blind eye to it. Why is this? The answer is that, for the most part, we tend to associate sleeping long with laziness.

There's another reason why people avoid sleep, and it's one most of us can easily understand. Resting in bed while waiting to fall asleep often gives people time to think about things they'd rather forget. Sometimes the only time available for worry is when we lie down to sleep. A client recently shared this with me: "As long as I can run around and be as busy as a bee, nothing bothers me. But the moment I lie down to go to sleep, my mind becomes active and wants to revisit every moment of the day and find more for me to worry about. I hate going to bed. It's the worst time of my day!"

Although many questions about the role of sleep remain unanswered, scientific studies have shown that sleep contributes significantly to several important cognitive, emotional, and performance-related functions. We'll take a closer look at this throughout the book. Sleep is, in essence, the food the brain needs to survive, and not getting sufficient sleep is like starving your brain-it can be harmful, even life threatening. In short, sleep is essential to a full, rich, and satisfying life.

Some Sleep Problems Are Common-and Dangerous

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) has conducted many polls over the past several decades exploring the incidence of sleep problems in adults, women, teenagers, and children. They report that about 70 million Americans suffer from some sort of sleep disorder. But that's only part of the problem. Many others suffer from some form of periodic sleep deprivation. These people have developed disruptive sleep or lifestyle habits that interfere with their normal sleep cycles.

Sleep deficits have been implicated in many major public catastrophes, including the oil spill of the Exxon Valdez and the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger. The nuclear accident at Chernobyl was also blamed on sleep deprivation, as were the near nuclear accidents at the Three Mile Island and Peach Bottom reactor sites.

Beyond these catastrophic consequences, the NSF polls have revealed that the cost of sleepiness to everyday humans is also astonishing. For example, each year there are more than 30,000 deaths from car accidents linked to sleepiness, and more than three million disabling injuries result from sleep-related accidents. Now I realize that I've taken quite a bit of space here to drive home the seriousness of our sleep problem. But I do so because it is important that we understand its seriousness.

A poll by the NSF in 2000 also estimated that an astounding 62 percent of American adults (basically, two out of every three of us) were not getting the amount and quality of sleep that their bodies and minds require. When repeated in 2005, the poll showed that this figure had risen to 75 percent. And by all accounts, it's still growing. According to the NSF, three out of every four American adults now have a sleep problem of one sort or another. The following figure gives us an idea of the percentages of people suffering from symptoms of insomnia.


Excerpted from SLEEP, IT DOES A FAMILY GOOD by ARCHIBALD D. HART Copyright © 2010 by Archibald D. Hart. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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