A friend recently asked me to sign up with her for an online course called Raising Happiness taught by Dr. Christine Carter, a sociologist at UC Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center. The premise of the class is to learn simple steps and happiness habits to bring more joy into your life and your children’s lives. I have been hooked week-after-week as I learn techniques about practicing gratitude, how to praise and encourage my kids, and how to foster more happiness in my own life.
The most recent class was about how sleep and exercise are the two best ways to be happier and smarter—certainly caught my attention. Having experienced severe sleep deprivation during my three kids’ infancies, I know how devastating it can be to not have enough sleep, and I have always turned to exercise as a means of keeping the blues away. But I was particularly interested to learn what Dr. Carter had to say about the research regarding the effects of sleep deprivation on kids and the potential for increasing their happiness and intelligence by getting more sleep and exercise.
Dr. Carter mentions a study that was done where “researchers restricted the sleep of some students and extended the sleep of others for about 40 minutes over just three days. Kids who got less sleep showed worse performance in areas like learning, memory, and reaction times. The difference between the two groups was "larger than or similar to the highly significant age differences between the fourth- and sixth-grade students. So losing two hours of sleep over three days set kids back two years!
She quotes happiness expert Sonja Lybermirsky who says exercise “may very well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all activities.” Increasing exercise can have positive effects on concentration, memory, and classroom behavior, and some studies suggest that increased exercise improves kids academic performance. Exercise is also found to be as effective as drugs in treating moderate depression.
Since I watched this last class, I have spent the last hour figuring out how I can move my afternoon schedule around to try to get my kids to bed 15 minutes earlier tonight. And we have been walking home from school—even in this cold weather. I will keep you posted on any beneficial effects.
So, enough said? Get to bed early tonight! And wake up tomorrow to go for a walk with the kids.
Francesca Olivieri is co-founder of sage baby, an online eco-friendly baby store offering everything from organic clothes and skin care to furniture. She also runs a green consulting business; blogs for The Family Groove and Scenic Hudson; and contributes to Daily Candy Kids, YogaCity, Citiscoop, and NRDC’s Simple Steps. Please visit her website at FrancescaOlivieri.com.