When I was young, I had at least one meltdown per week. I’m not talking about my two year old self, who most likely had a temper tantrum daily, but about my teenage self, for I was highly emotional. My mother even made me a needlepoint tiger with the motto, “Leave me alone, I’m having a crisis.” I was a drama queen back in my day. My parents’ eyes rolled so often it’s a wonder they didn’t get dizzy. Their heads’ shaking in wonder most likely brought their brains back on an even keel.
We expect small children to have mood swings, since they don’t have the life experiences to know their hunger pangs aren’t the end of the world as they know it. They also don’t have the self discipline yet to keep calm when they’re tired and fussy. This state of being comes around with regularity every afternoon at about the same time for many children. My family called it the Do-Dang Hour. My daddy would say, “The Do-Dang monster has come to visit,” whenever my daughter changed from her cheerful self into a grumpy, moody, and intractable child. As a young mother, I soon grew attuned to her personality changes and could whip her off to nap time, from which she’d return as her renewed self.
I have no idea why the near nap time grumpy behaviors of small children in my family all participated in this genetic trait, but we did, and dang it, we wouldn’t be denied. We also all had mandatory nap periods, which probably saved our lives. As we got older, we had rest periods or quiet times on our beds, and this may have saved our mother’s life.
“When can we get up?” This was a burning question on our eager minds and active bodies.
“When the clock hands match the colors on the face,” mother said, for she’d colored a blue mark on face at 3:00 for my youngest brother, who hadn’t yet learned how to tell time.
If we read our books, chatted quietly, or closed our eyes, we fulfilled our afternoon rest period. Bouncing from bed to bed or racing from room to room wasn’t allowed. This was a quiet time. My parents were disciplined about these things, but this is how they grew up also. My dad also believed children needed sleep to thrive. As a physician, he believed adequate sleep duration on a regular basis for every age led to improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health. Today we know a lack of sleep each night is associated with an increase in injuries, hypertension, obesity and depression, especially for teens who may experience increased risk of self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
This is the optimal amount of sleep, including naps, we should get on a regular basis to promote optimal health:
- Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours
- Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours
- Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours
- Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours
- Teenagers 13 to 17 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours
- Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
- Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)
As a side note, I was still going to bed at 7 pm in the 7th grade and getting 12 hours of sleep, but all of my classmates went to bed much later. I took a survey of all the people in my classes and discovered about 75% went to bed after 8 pm and the rest later still. My physician father was moved by facts, but not by sentiment. I wanted to have a more adult bedtime than my brothers, who were still in elementary school. Eleven hours of sleep still fell into the optimal window.
Even before this pandemic struck the world, one third of Americans weren’t getting sufficient sleep. We put other things on out priority list as more important, but sleep is foundational. Giving ourselves permission to sleep at night lets our bodies refresh and restore, plus makes us stronger to fight off any illness that comes our way. We can’t “make up for lost sleep” by sleeping more on our days off, since this behavior only throws off our body’s schedule.
In this age of coronavirus, having a structure at home helps to keep our bodies on a schedule. We make a plan for our week, building in free time, rest time, and learning time. We can make our family cooking into math and science projects. We can bake and decorate cookies as art projects. We can read our history stories and make a themed cake or meal for supper. If we’re creative, we can make our learning interdisciplinary and home centered. If we want “extra credit,” we may offer dinner and a show, with a dramatic reading on our day’s studies with the decaf coffee and dessert.
I personally find I’m most creative when I’m at rest and somewhat tired. Then when I’m reading, I lose interest in the black marks of the words on the page and I look at the white spaces in between. In this void, my imagination can travel to far flung places and plumb great depths, none of which I’ve ever before seen. This is how artists dream visions, musicians hear new music, and scientists make intuitive breakthroughs. If our lives are too busy and full, we need a quiet place to bring what’s important into focus.
For me, I’m letting Kroger do my shopping and I’m only going out to pick it up. I forgot to order the decaf coffee, so I guess I’ll have to drink the “hard stuff” this week! I’ll have to be careful how much I swill! And I have green tea, so I won’t lack for a wake up cup. When I went out today, I was so surprised by the beauty of the clear blue sky, the various greens, the purple wisteria, and the bright yellow and red wildflowers along the highway. I would have driven around just to sight see, except I had items needing refrigeration as soon as possible. Also, I overslept and needed some coffee, so home I went.
To keep you from melting down into your very own Do-Dang Hour—we adults call it Hangry now—I’m appending some Self-care Strategies for the Age of COVID-19:
- Relinquish control
- Revisit your personal history to find memories of joy and success
- Establish realistic expectations for this experience
- Give yourself a brain break
- Unplug from the noise
- Find a state of flow
- Your body matters, so care for it tenderly
- Pay it forward, by doing for others also
- Find your tribe
We can make it through this time of Social Distancing. The Great Depression lasted 43 months. Surely we can last for a few months. We can rise to this moment in time, but we first have to realize we’re in a new reality. If life isn’t the way it used to be, we’ll need to live the best life we can in the world the way it is, as we try to bring about a better world for all people. We can do this together, for together we are stronger than we are alone. Find your tribe, find your purpose, do good for others, and share the love.
Remember this word from the Letter to the Hebrews (13:6):
So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”
Sending you Joy and Peace,
The American Academy of Pediatrics Supports Childhood Sleep Guidelines—
National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times—
Help Guides for a Better Night’s Sleep—