If shouting is the new spanking, then sleeping is the new exercising.
This is the exhausting message from Canada's recently released ParticipAction Report Card, which last week informed tired, stressed-out parents everywhere that the children of the nation are not only weaker and lazier but, increasingly, they are sleep deprived as well.
In a report titled Are Canadian Kids Too Tired to Move? the non-profit organization cited a "creeping sleepidemic" as the reason why Canadian kids have scored so poorly on the physical-activity portion of the report yet again this year.
According to ParticipAction, only 37 per cent of 11- to 15-year-olds play outdoors for more than two hours each day and more than 75 per cent of all kids exceed the daily guidelines for allocated screen time. This, according to their research, greatly contributes to the rising number of children who receive either too little or poor quality sleep at night, with more than a quarter of Canadian kids currently sleep deprived.
It's a vicious circle, of course, since what do exhausted people of all ages like to do with our free time? Let's just say climbing trees and frolicking in meadows is not top of the list. Instead, we like to lay on the sofa, eat processed carbohydrates and binge watch Amazon Prime.
As an exhausted working parent, I should know. And I blame my own exhaustion on the fact that I have kids. Just last night, for instance, my three-year-old was woken up by a nightmare at 3 a.m. and then, after being soothed back to sleep, bounded out of bed at 5:30. We can blame our kids for making us tired, but who do we have to blame for our kids' exhaustion? Only ourselves – and the crazy world we live in.
It's an impossible parenting conundrum, this problem I have come to call the Sleep Thing, a debilitating issue right up there with other riveting topics of parental conversation, which include the Childcare Thing, the Eating Thing and, later on, the Homework Thing. But the Sleep Thing deserves a special rank since a significant lack of it will very quickly wreak havoc on your physical and emotional stability and unravel any sense of sanity you cling to in order to just slog through the work week.
This is, of course, especially true for very young children who are naturally unreasonable to begin with. For toddlers, a lack of sleep just makes the day-to-day insanity that much more deranged.
Parents, it seems, are at a loss when it comes to the Sleep Thing and so the well-intentioned gym teacher types at ParticipAction have come up with a new set of firm guidelines for parents in an effort to solve the problem. But, realistically, these guidelines will be very challenging, if not impossible, for many working Canadian families to meet.
Unlike nutritional rules, which parents can follow simply by shopping and cooking accordingly, sleep is subject to the vagaries of the space-time continuum.
For instance, say you are a working couple with two kids aged two and four, one in daycare and the other after-school care until 6 p.m. each weekday. And say your kids wake up, as is pretty standard, around 6 a.m. in order to get ready and out the door in time for school/daycare at 8-8:30 a.m. If you are this family (and a great many of us are), you would need to get your kids fed, bathed, read to and asleep within one to two hours maximum of arriving home each weekday in order to meet the absolute bare minimum health standard for sleep. It's actually a miracle that nearly three quarters of Canadian families apparently do manage to do this.
I consider myself a bit of a drill sergeant when it comes to bedtimes and so-called "sleep hygiene" (no sugary snacks or screen time just before bed or in bed, etc.) and I rarely manage to meet the minimum recommendations, let alone make sure my toddler gets 13 hours sleep a night. I wish.
The truth is, if he did, he wouldn't see enough of his father, who works long hours during the week and races home from the office each night hoping I've been derelict enough in my bedtime duties that he can steal a goodnight kiss from both boys. Often, though not always, the youngest is already asleep.
So what does my three-year-old gain from that extra half-hour of oblivion weighed against missing out on an evening snuggle from his hard-working dad? It's impossible to say, but this is the sort of crazy-making math all parents must do when it comes to the Sleep Thing. It's a lot trickier than just pureeing vegetables into a meat sauce or kicking your kids outdoors to play.
As public-health issues go, sleep is affected by the limited number of hours we have in a day or a week. Unless we all start magically working less or loudly demanding more (more flexible work arrangements, more parental leave, more help for working parents everywhere), nobody's going to be getting a better night's sleep any time soon.