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Sleep: Laurie Hollman On Why You Should Make Getting A Good Night’s Sleep A Major Priority In Your Life, And How You Can Make That Happen

An Interview With Tyler Gallagher

No advice is right for every child or adult which is the complication and implication of this question. Sleep and wake patterns need to be taken seriously, understood, regarded with care, and resolved if we want healthy productive lives. Kind of like a toothache. It won’t go away just by ignoring it! But we also must not jump to conclusions and ready solutions in a hurry.

Getting a good night’s sleep has so many physical, emotional, and mental benefits. Yet with all of the distractions that demand our attention, going to sleep on time and getting enough rest has become extremely elusive to many of us. Why is sleep so important and how can we make it a priority?

In this interview series called “Sleep: Why You Should Make Getting A Good Night’s Sleep A Major Priority In Your Life, And How You Can Make That Happen” we are talking to medical and wellness professionals, sleep specialists, and business leaders who sell sleep accessories to share insights from their knowledge and experience about how to make getting a good night’s sleep a priority in your life.

As part of this interview series, we had the pleasure to interview Laurie Hollman.

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with specialized clinical training in infant-parent, child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapy and is an expert on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder elaborately illustrated in her captivating book, published in 2020: “Are You Living with a Narcissist?” In 2021 her most recent arrival is: “Playing with Your Baby: Research Based Play to Bond with Your Baby from Birth to One Year” which received the Gold Mom’s Choice Award prior to its release July 20, 2021.

She is an authority on modern parent-child relationships and an award-winning author. She has written extensively on parenting for various publications, including the Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, The International Journal of Infant Observation, The Inner World of the Mother, Newsday’s Parents & Children Magazine and Long Island Parent in New York. She blogged for Huffington Post extensively and currently contributes articles for Thrive Global, Mind Body Green, Authority Magazine, Choosing Therapy, and Upjourney. She also writes as a parenting expert for Good Housekeeping, Bustle Lifestyle, Romper, Fatherly, and others.

She has been on the faculties of New York University and the Society for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, among others.

Her Gold Mom’s Choice Award winning books are Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior. Her companion award winning books are The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Anxiety in Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way, and The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Anger in Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way.

Other books in this series are The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Technology with Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way and The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Exhaustion with Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way (pertinent to this interview).

Dr. Hollman is currently using her 40-year experiences as a psychoanalyst to write her debut novel tentatively titled, Your Reflection in My Eyes.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your backstory?

Hello. Pertinent to this interview is my experience working with parents whose children and/or teens are too exhausted, and they want to figure out why. Just counting hours of sleep doesn’t give any clues, so I share the Parental Intelligence method for finding out the particular meaning of the child’s or teen’s sleep disturbance — how sleep patterns have meanings particular to each child.

This approach gives parents a guide for collaborating with their child or teen to address the need for sleep and reasons for exhaustion

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this particular career path?

As a psychoanalyst and psychoanalytic psychotherapist over many decades sleep patterns were drawn to my attention. I was encouraged to write popular books for parents to expand my outreach. I narrowed a parenting approach to what I call, Parental Intelligence. The main idea is that BEHAVIOR is a MESSENGER. So, I’ve helped parents decode their child’s particular SLEEP BEHAVIOR.

Here’s one story applying this approach to a 14-year-old girl who sleeps excessively. Excess sleep is not a typical sleep problem which is why I’m sharing it with you to raise awareness of an unusual plight for a young girl.

Fourteen-year-old Leslie drags herself up the stairs to land on her bed right after school on most days, falling into a deep sleep that can last for three hours. She’s always shocked that it’s six o’clock when she opens her drowsy eyes and that her mother is calling her down to dinner. Like most high achieving academic kids, she can’t sleep like this every day, because she is a member of the debate team and editor of the school paper. She almost always feels exhausted. Sometimes she falls asleep in class, only to get kicked under her desk by her friend to wake her up. At night she sleeps like a rock. Her mother thinks her problem is that she’s picking the wrong friends who aren’t as smart and goal oriented as she is. She fears her daughter is getting lazy. But her mother is off the mark this time.

Leslie is well liked and no one except her therapist knows about the excessive sleep. Her exhaustion is hidden because her mother thinks she is doing homework and visiting kids on the computer. But her mother is still worried. Leslie’s excessive sleep interferes with her homework, which causes its own problems because Leslie is a good student with a lot of advanced placement classes.

If Leslie doesn’t write something perfectly, according to her excessive standards, she rips up her work and rewrites it. Writing on the computer helps her, but then she gets preoccupied with the margins, spacing, and spellcheck — once again deleting all her work until it’s perfect. On the standardized tests that have become so common, she must pencil in the little answer circles perfectly or she erases her work and does it over. This takes time from solving the problems that she’s supposed to be focusing on.

What does exhaustion have to do with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)? Well, Leslie is avoiding her obsessive thoughts and compulsions just to get a mental break from them. Sleep is her escape.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the sleep and wellness fields? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

My contribution is the exploration of sleep problems of children and teens. Here is a sample of my findings.

Exhaustion due to sleep deprivation, trauma, and excessive stress is a family as well as societal concern when we consider our children’s needs. Sleep serves many functions and the amount needed varies in children at different developmental stages.

The U.S. Institute of Medicine and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have noted the connection of inadequate sleep and exhaustion with chronic conditions including hypertension, depression, and obesity. Also, it is not only duration of sleep, but continuity of sleep, timing, the ability to maintain good wakefulness, and a sense of subjective satisfaction with sleep that is essential for children.

Do we recognize how exhausted so many of our children are and the results of this deprivation?

I reported in the Pittsburgh Parent Magazine in 2016 that the National Sleep Foundation says that 30 percent of preschoolers don’t get enough sleep, and a recently released study by the University of Colorado at Boulder found that sleep deprived young children consume 20 percent more calories than usual.

Exhaustion due to acute sleep deprivation leads to decreased vigilance, alterations in mood, cognition, and mental and physical health. Many children live in a state of partial sleep deprivation and exhaustion in adolescence is considered epidemic. This deprivation leads to deficits in their ability to learn, discover and explore their environment, expand their minds, get along well with others, and for their bodies to chemically process foods that they’ve eaten or to fight infections.

A significant lack of sleep, or sleep deprivation, that causes exhaustion in children and adolescents is widespread. My inspiration for studying this problem is to heighten the awareness of parents to the significance of this phenomena, so they will help their children organize their daily lives to improve their general well-being, productivity, and social competence.

Time is of the essence if we want our children to be cheerful, happy, loving, accomplished youngsters with parents devoted to their physiological and psychological welfare that will prepare them not only to experience adequate but superior lives in their futures as adults.

Exhaustion in children and adolescents is an individual, familial, and societal issue with a huge amount of research for growing youngsters and their dedicated, ardent parents who vigorously love them.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

On this topic, an excellent resource is The Science of Sleep: What it is, How it Works, and Why it Matters, Wallace B. Mendelsohn, 2017

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Relevant for me that I enjoy sharing because I am also a painter is a wonderful quote I read just this morning by the well-known artist, Paul Klee:

“One eye sees, the other feels.”

Although he is discussing painting especially as it relates to music (!) I think this is a great metaphor for life itself.

With regard to this interview in particular, when parents SEE an exhausted child, they might be more empathic if they consider what they (the parents) FEEL as they observe their youngster and what their child might FEEL as well, especially if they nonjudgmentally ask the child for her point of view.

The parents’ feelings may be a subconscious clue to what their child is experiencing. If the parents’ feelings differ from their child’s experience of exhaustion that is a worthy and loving discussion in the making.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with the basics. How much sleep should an adult get? Is there a difference between people who are young, middle-aged, or elderly?

Staying focused on children (and leaving your second question to the sleep experts on older folks) I’d like to point out that babies, children, and adolescents need significantly more sleep than adults do in order to support their rapid mental and physical development. However, children often act as if they are not tired, resisting bedtime and becoming hyper as the evening goes on. All this can happen because the child is overtired.

They become irritable and hyperactive because they don’t know what is happening to their bodies. I strongly urge parents to explain openly and empathically to their kids that they are indeed tired and the reason they need rest is so they can be alert, energetic, and enjoy the next day.

In other words, bedtimes shouldn’t become a source of argument as if the parent is taking some kind of authoritarian stance, but a topic for an open discussion with kids of all ages (except infants, of course, whose sleep schedule varies month by month and even day by day. Babies are soothed to sleep in various ways — nursing, bottle feeding, patting the back, singing quietly — also learning that sleep is pleasurable and related to bonding rather than a time for ‘crying oneself out’ into exhaustion.)

Exhaustion and Child and Adolescent Development

Exhaustion is defined as extreme mental or physical fatigue. In Pediatrics (2012) from the American Academy of Pediatrics it was found that kids today are not getting an adequate amount of sleep as a result of modern life and due to current technologies.

Generally, the literature seems to agree on the following sleep needs:

Age

Recommended

May be appropriate

Preschoolers 3–5 years

10 to 13 hours

8 to 9 hours;

14 hours

School-aged Children 6–13 years

9 to 11 hours

7 to 8 hours;

12 hours

Teenagers 14–17 years

8 to 10 hours

7 to 11 hours

Young Adults 18–25 years

7 to 9 hours

6 to 11 hours

Is the amount of hours the main criteria, or the time that you go to bed? For example, if there was a hypothetical choice between getting to bed at 10PM and getting up at 4AM, for a total of 6 hours, or going to bed at 2AM and getting up at 10AM for a total of 8 hours, is one a better choice for your health? Can you explain?

Again, keeping my focus on kids, relevant and often not understood is that adolescents biologically tend to feel tired later in the evening than younger kids and that is why they are prone to sleep late especially on weekends. This won’t be a source of argument or even some kind of moral stance about early or late risers if parents and teens discuss this naturally occurring rhythm.

It’s also why it is an issue for public schools who tend to send the high school kids to school earlier on the buses than the younger kids, so they have time for activities after their academic classes. The result is that in homeroom or first period, the teen is half asleep, gaining momentum later in the morning which reflects their more natural biological rhythm.

So, to answer your question more directly, it’s not only the number of hours noted in the chart above, but when specific times on the clock match those hours biologically in tune with the natural maturation of the child or teen.

As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for our readers. Let’s imagine a hypothetical 35-year-old adult who was not getting enough sleep. After working diligently at it for 6 months he or she began to sleep well and got the requisite hours of sleep. How will this person’s life improve? Can you help articulate some of the benefits this person will see after starting to get enough sleep? Can you explain?

Again, refocusing your question to kids, when kids get the sleep their biological maturation requires they will enjoy school more, concentrate for longer periods productively, and not only enjoy their social lives more, but also get along with their parents with equanimity.

Sleep is like nutrition and oxygen. We all need it so why do parents and kids argue about the obvious? I strongly recommend the collaborative approach of The Parental Intelligence Way where again sleep, exhaustion, and oversleeping are all behaviors which are meaningful if we are attuned to our kids views.

Many things provide benefits but they aren’t necessarily a priority. Should we make getting a good night’s sleep a major priority in our life? Can you explain what you mean?

Absolutely for all the reasons noted earlier for kids.

With respect to adults, not my focus so far, professions that require excessive work hours, followed hopefully by family time for those who have kids and/or interpersonal relationships they want to sustain, sleep may get short changed. We simply get along more amicably with those we love when we are well rested.

It’s also a societal issue for CEO’s to consider thoughtfully in order not only to actually care empathically for their employees a prerequisite for excellent leadership in my view but also to maximize profits if that is their ultimate aim. Exhausted adults do not function as productively as those who are well rested.

(This has become an obvious urgent issue during the Pandemic for health professionals for example, who are overextended, increasing the danger for them of getting physically ill as well as prone to high anxiety and depression.)

The truth is that most of us know that it’s important to get better sleep. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives? How should we remove those obstacles?

Actually, I do not think most of us take in even intellectually the science behind a healthy need for sleep. Most of us aren’t so in step with our bodily needs. We deny our tiredness if we are overworked, and then prolong the state of overtiredness, and think we are adapting to this as a way of life.

But this is not healthy adaptation or a respect for normal self-preservation. If this is the case for overscheduled kids or adults, they need to take a careful look at their competitive spirits, their aspirations, and define their motivations for skipping needed rest as an option that will only sabotage their goals.

The mind and body don’t always work together although that would be ideal. However, if we try to successfully define and meet our goals as kids and as adults when we are well-rested then we will think more clearly and also, more kindly, toward ourselves.

Three blockages may be (1) ignorance of the science of sleep that can be easily remedied; (2) denial of the knowledge that our bodies are telling us that we can change by starting to listen more closely; and (3) misaligned expectations and aspirations with sleep needs that can also be corrected with regular good nights of sleep so we can reach our goals.

Sleep is a friend and ally not an obstacle to meeting our goals.

Do you think getting “good sleep” is more difficult today than it was in the past?

Before we had electricity, sleep was based on when it got dark, and we rose to tend to our lives and each other when the sun rose. Maybe effective sleep patterns were more natural then. That’s just speculation. But in today’s technological “screen world” addictions to the light on screens before sleep do interfere with reasonable ways to drift naturally into sleep. It’s generally recommended to leave your phone and computer and television in a room that is not where you sleep. And beyond this obvious technological issue is the need to feel at ease when you go to sleep — for stress and anxiety to be low, to feel loved and loveable, and in tune with yourself. That’s a lot to consider!

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share “5 things you need to know to get the sleep you need and wake up refreshed and energized”? If you can, kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. Parents and kids need to know the expected hours of sleep for each stage of development. (See story below).
  2. Parents need to regard sleep patterns as a behavior that is sending a message. If the message is understood the reasons for sleep disturbances will be remedied. (See story below)
  3. Parents need to discuss with their kids when overscheduling leads to exhaustion. (See story below)
  4. Parents need to collaborate with their child about sleep problems to understand the sometimes multiple reasons. (See story below).
  5. Parents and kids can problem solve together how to solve sleep problems which not only improves sleep but also parent/child relationships. So how does this work? Here’s a story.

At 7:00 a.m. Lidia’s alarm buzzes. She presses the snooze button, barely aware she’s doing it. She has another alarm clock across the room because she knows the one on her nightstand doesn’t do the trick. Shey awakens exhausted! No matter how much sleep she can fit in, it isn’t enough for the strenuous activities she’s engaged in — except violin — weigh on her budding musculature. Each morning her mother must coax her to get dressed and eat a hearty breakfast. They don’t argue, but they aren’t exactly enjoying each other’s company either.

Lidia is a spirited eight-year-old who does well in school and engages in: gymnastics, ballet, violin lessons, and lacrosse. Lidia loves her activities and prides herself on her performance. She hopes to join the lacrosse travel team next year. Her mother observes that Lidia is usually exhausted and barely able to eat dinner and do homework before falling asleep, often at her desk. According to her pediatrician, Lidia has begun to get minor illnesses too often.

Understanding Lidia’s mind, step three of Parental Intelligence, is difficult. Lidia is a top performer, but she complains she doesn’t really have friends to confide in. She isn’t being invited to sleepovers and feels left out.

Understanding her development, step four of Parental Intelligence, is also complex. At age eight she is straining a body that is still growing, and her pediatrician expresses concern that it may be too much. The doctor feels that all the physical exertion on Lidia’s slim body may cause injuries that she is too young to endure. Lacrosse is particularly demanding, and if she gets on to the travel team then it will mean daily practices. Also considering a regular school day followed by gymnastics and ballet, her body is being pulled and stretched extensively.

Lidia’s parents realize they have to problem solve, step five of Parental Intelligence, in order to protect their daughter from over scheduling her life. Lidia is reluctant because she has absorbed her parents’ wishes to never feel left out of every opportunity; Lidia has become a perfectionist.

However, one quiet Sunday afternoon Lidia’s parents decide to have a picnic lunch together.

At the park, they lay out a blanket and their hearty feast. First, they just talk about taking a bike ride later. But finally, Dad has the courage to bring up the subject of over-scheduling.

Lidia protests, “I like all that I do, and I do it really well. Why do you think we should change things? I promise I’ll get up on my own from now on. I like to be independent and actually object when you [Mommy] try to help me get dressed.”

Her mother replies, “I do understand that you like to be independent, and for eight years old, you really are! But tell us more truthfully what it’s like for you when you try to wake up.”

“I set two alarms as you know, but I can hardly move. My calves ache from ballet, and my neck muscles even hurt from gymnastics. I hate to admit that because I want to be an Olympic star someday. Wouldn’t that please you both?”

Dad says, “You’ve never told us these aspirations. Olympic star! Olympic athletes usually focus on one sport not several. Also, what’s this about pleasing us?”

“I know you and Mommy take pleasure in all I do and constantly say ‘just do your best,’ but really I think that means ‘be the best.’ Don’t you really mean that deep down?”

“NO!” both parents exclaim. Lidia’s mother says in between tears, “Lidia, I don’t love you because of what you do or don’t do. I love you always and forever — no matter what you choose. I think you mistook our enthusiasm for your activities for something more than we ever intended. You have our approval no matter how well you do at everything — including your schoolwork. Please don’t think we are pressuring you to be perfect.”

“I want to be perfect, and that’s why I do my best. I think perfect is perfect! I know I need a lot of carbs to have the energy for my stuff, but sometimes I think I eat too much pasta and cheese and will get fat.”

Her parents look at each other realizing an eating disorder could be in the making and that their over-scheduling is not the only problem leading to exhaustion.. Lidia’s perfectionistic standards are over-the-top, and they must address this problem seriously before it develops into something dire.

Dad adds, “I know sometimes you complain you don’t get enough time just to hang out with girls, go to sleep-overs, and stay up late for fun. What about all that?”

“I know I’ve said that, and I do mean it. I kind of feel left out in school when the kids fool around at recess. I sort of don’t know how to fool around and just laugh and goof-off. It’s like I never learned how to relax. Does this make any sense?”

Lidia’s mother sees it’s hard to define just yet what the priorities should be concerning her daughter’s perfectionism, her wish for their approval, her wish to be an Olympic star, her wish for more friends, and her socializing self-doubts.

Instead of jumping in with his ideas, Dad asks Lidia what she thinks can be done so she’s a happier girl: “Lidia you have told us so much today that we didn’t know. I’m sorry you have kept so many worries to yourself. Where should we begin to help you feel better about yourself and feel less pressure to be perfect?”

“I don’t know. Maybe think hard if there’s one sport that I really favor. I would like to have at least one or even two afternoons with nothing to do except play with other girls. Is that bad?”

Dad says, “Of course not. That’s a great beginning to solving some of this. It’s begun to sound more like stress than fun”

Lidia’s mother joins in. “You are an exhausted child. We must face that together and monitor our expectations for you. I like the idea of focusing on one sport. Do you have a possible choice?”

Lidia shares her wish for the travel team. Her mother asks, “Could you put the idea of being an Olympiad on hold for a while and just enjoy what you do now rather than try to be the best? I know you’ll succeed, and we’ll all get a charge out of that, but being part of a team is special, too.”

Dad sums up. “Let’s not make changes abruptly. Would you like to go to a lacrosse camp and see if you like a few weeks of that? Then we can make more choices. Take a break from ballet and gymnastics for the summer if you agree. What about violin?”

“I like the four-week lacrosse camp, one where you sleep over. Then I’ll get to know the girls better. I can skip violin during July, but I wouldn’t want to give it up. In August I can resume the violin and then we’ll decide what else to include. How does that sound?”

Both Lidia’s parents knew now that they had to make sure to speak to her differently, so she didn’t think approval was so high on their list. Furthermore, they later discuss Lidia’s diet plan with the pediatrician, so that Lidia steers away from an eating disorder with her perfectionism lingering on.

Problem solving the Parental Intelligence Way was certainly the right road for this family.

What would you advise someone who wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep?

Keeping to my child focus, if your kids wake up in the middle of the night hopefully you will become aware of this because they wake you for help which you kindly give or tell you the next day. Then you can openly discuss (with Parental Intelligence — the approach that includes open, collaborative, nonjudgmental listening) what may be causing anxiety or in other words, what this waking up in the middle of the night BEHAVIOR means. If we know what it means for each individual in particular, then we can come up with reasonable solutions. If we don’t know the cause of a problem, how can we suggest a solution?

No advice is right for every child or adult which is the complication and implication of this question. Sleep and wake patterns need to be taken seriously, understood, regarded with care, and resolved if we want healthy productive lives. Kind of like a toothache. It won’t go away just by ignoring it! But we also must not jump to conclusions and ready solutions in a hurry.

Remember, the behavior is the messenger. If waking in the middle of the night is waking in distress where one cannot just roll over and fall back to sleep, it’s meaningful. If adults and kids don’t take the time needed to fully understand the meanings behind this pattern, it will become more entrenched and more difficult to solve.

It’s also important to understand night terrors (appearing to awaken distressed when the child is still actually asleep), nightmares, sleepwalking, and the rhythm of dreaming. While I can’t discuss all of that in this interview, perhaps it’s helpful, in brief, to understand that dreaming at best is restorative. It helps us problem solve what may be stressing both child and adult when they are ‘offline.’

What are your thoughts about taking a nap during the day? Is that a good idea, or can it affect the ability to sleep well at night?

Again, we must think about developmental age and maturation. Babies must nap because they require so much sleep for their rapid development. At the other extreme of the age continuum, if your lifestyle is one of retirement from work, an afternoon nap might be very pleasurable and productive for the energy needed later in the day

There is no one prescription for all ages and for various people at those ages. Trial-and-error is an okay approach to this question. If you, for example, are one of those lucky adults who can take a five-minute nap and awaken refreshed, go for it! If you’re falling asleep at your computer, sounds more like nighttime sleep isn’t sufficient. If you’re an adolescent asleep in class, someone who cares isn’t up to date on your sleep rhythm needs.

Should a nap fit into your day as a preschooler or adult working at home, try different amounts of nap time to see if you feel refreshed but still sleep well at night the hours developmentally required for your age. Be kind to yourself and remember no size fits all.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Next on my agenda is seeking an agent for my debut novel. It would be a great pleasure and honor to talk or meet with 2019 Perkins Award Winner Lynn Nesbit, the talented and renown agent at

https://www.janklowandnesbit.com/contact

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I would like to invite anyone interested to check in with my website — lauriehollmanphd.com — especially clicking on the book section at this link for continued understanding of today’s topic:

https://lauriehollmanphd.com/books/the-busy-parents-guide-to-managing-exhaustion-in-children-and-teens/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Thank you.

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