Every day I depend on my ability to be at my best. I have to maintain a good overview and be attentive to detail as well as the bigger picture. I have to be friendly, open, positive and listening in order to understand what is relevant right now, and what can wait. I have to be constantly alert and consider my actions carefully. I need to be able to distinguish clearly between my own needs and the needs of others. I live a fast-paced life in a modern society that expects me to be up to date with basically everything, at all levels, all the time, actively engaging in life.
As a pedagogue I am an important role model for the children in my care. I am the center of their world, and their wellbeing depends on how I think, feel and act. The children’s parents, neighbors and other people around them also keep an eye on me to make sure that I do my job properly. Even when having a break I am still at it, thinking, speaking, writing …. I am never just a human being, at rest.
If I am to function well within all of this, I am totally dependent on a good night’s sleep. There is a saying that the quality of your day depends on the quality of your sleep. I think most of us can relate to that. Poor sleep or too little sleep simply makes us less able to meet the requirements of everyday life. Too little sleep makes us more vulnerable, irritable and less tolerant and we become antisocial. It reduces our ability to concentrate and focus clearly.
In general, people today sleep two hours less than the previous generation. The appreciation of the importance of sleep seems to have gone lost in the hurry-scurry and increasing pace of our modern way of life. But it is stressful to not know what one is doing. We lose perspective and get sick, both physically and mentally.
The good news is that we can chose how we want to live our life consciously. We are grown up people and we can say yes and no to what we meet on our way. We can take charge of our own life and change things for the better and prioritize differently – understanding that no one can be everything to all, and that there are times in life when it is necessary to prioritize some things over others.
A child does not have that option. Children are born with no patterns and need to catch the way of everything from their surroundings, including healthy sleep habits. It is therefore vital that the adults around them appreciate how important sleep is, particularly when it comes to small children under the age of seven. Young children need our help to establish a good sleep rhythm. They are bombarded with sensory input and impressions from day one. Only in their sleep can they withdraw from the world to build their body and soul. The less sleep children get the less resilient they become in facing the outer world. Most children cannot speak out and stand up for themselves and say no. They just try to keep up with it all, regardless of how hectic it may be. They exhaust their senses and get ill in all sorts of ways. The turbulence around them makes it difficult for them to relax and be at peace. It is no longer common knowledge that sleep is based on rhythm, that preparing for sleep starts with the evening meal (or with lunch for small children), that the need to slow down before bedtime is crucial for any child’s ability to settle and fall asleep. And toddlers do need lots and lots of sleep – 11-13 hours a night. However, there is often noise and activity everywhere from the media and cell phones and so on.
I have travelled most of the world, and in recent years I have heard a lot about children having sleep problems. Many pedagogues describe how children arrive in the morning at the nursery or kindergarten, tired and distressed and unable to concentrate. Small children are expected to live the life of adults. They are getting caught between the old ways of traditional family life and the new ways of modern living, where the family on the one hand still have their main supper in the evening and get to bed very late, but on the other hand needs to get up very early in the morning, everyone leaving home in a rush. Many children spend hours away from home and their primary family every day, and one of the consequences of this is that they don’t get sufficient quality sleep. They constantly have to adjust to the needs and timings of the adult world. But do we really understand that our children pay a very high price for missing out on sleep?
We wonder why they have difficulty sleeping, and why they can’t settle to it and surrender when they are finally tucked into bed. Why do so many children suffer this distress, and why is sleep such an important process within human development – for children and adults alike? If we can understand this we can reclaim our right to get sufficient sleep.
Within the fields of natural science sleep and insomnia has being heavily researched with a focus on understanding the body and brain functions and reactions within the human complex. From a spiritual standpoint however, the anthroposophical thinker Rudolf Steiner has a quite different approach in many of his lectures and writings. Steiner’s spiritual perspective on the matter adds a whole other dimension to the importance of sleep, and why small children need a lot of it, simply because they are in the process of developing their physical, etheric and astral body and haven’t yet developed a fully grown self.
This small booklet contains a collection of quotes from Rudolf Steiner’s writings where he describes sleep as a facilitating and establishing process towards becoming a throughout human. Within this, Steiner draws on the spiritual worlds as a great companion that can assist us in our development of a physical and spiritual self.
We hope this will inspire you to study the great mystery of sleep further, so that you may truly appreciate the vital functions of this important process and work to help children and adults alike getting the sleep they need.
Sleep is not a waste of time. A proper sleep is the key to a good life.
On behalf of the Mandate Group for birth to 3 year olds, IASWECE