Sleepless In America: Are we raising a generation of sleep deprived kids?

Sleepless In America: Are we raising a generation of sleep deprived kids?

I attended a very large NYC public high school.  And by large I don’t mean the physical building – though that was a pretty big WPA era monolith – I mean that 2400 hundred kids were shoved into a building probably built to accommodate a population half that size.  So we did what so many other NYC public schools did, and still do, we started in shifts.  By my senior year, I began the school day at 7:45 and ended at around 1:00.  I left the house at around 6:45 for the subway, usually in the dark, and always tired.

I think about this more and more as my daughters approach high school and will inevitably have a commute to school adding an hour or so to their morning timeline.  Recently, a slew of reports have come out confirming what most parents of teens already knew – teens have different body clocks, they stay up later and need to sleep in longer.  Finally, studies have proven that teens need 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep and that schools that push start times to 8:30 or later see an increase in student performance and decrease in behavior issues.  But, most school districts have not heeded the message.

So, I was really interested in learning about a new special on National Geographic Channel on November 30th at 8pm, “Sleepless in America.”  The special explores the importance of sleep on many facets of American Life, education being just one.

I really believe that true change in education can only come when parents band together to act on behalf of their kids and use their voting leverage and voices to affect change.  Since many school districts site budget concerns as a reason for not changing the school start time it may take legislation (and support) to make districts move their start times and take this issue seriously. I’m not always sure if blanket legislation is the answer since schools have a myriad of different factions with which they must contend, and different populations that might need earlier start times to benefit parents’ situations, but it certainly seems like the reasons for making school start later far outweigh the reasons to keep too early start times.  The American Association of Pediatrics is recommending no start times before 8:30 am.

Tune in to Sleepless in America on November 30th on National Geographic Channel and think about how sleep, or lack thereof, affects you and your family in ways you may never have considered, but really should.

A Real Doctor at Your Virtual Fingertips

People always ask what they should get a new parent. And when I think about the things that we really used, and continued to use for years, it was pretty basic stuff.

Baby bathtub? Good for about 1 year.

Playmat? 5 months.

Double stroller? 4 years. (and I was SOOO happy the day we sold it to an expecting twin mom!)

All of those items were on my checklist of things I needed, that I knew about.

The things I didn’t know about but someone was smart enough to buy us before my girls arrived? Digital thermometer, medicine spoons, infant Tylenol and one of those booger sucker-outer gizmos. I STILL use that thermometer 12 years later – and the medicine spoons since one of my daughters can’t swallow pills yet. Thankfully, they learned how to blow their noses.

But the bottom line is that kids get sick – A LOT.

One of the most frustrating things as a new parent is when your child gets sick on the weekend, or the middle of the night, or when you’re traveling, and your own pediatrician is not readily available. There are urgent care centers popping up all over the place, but I hate waiting in those waiting rooms full of sick people, and there is rarely a separate pediatric care center. So, I was interested in learning about the LiveHealth Online app where parents can talk securely and privately by two­-way video chat with a U.S.-­based, primary care doctor 24/7.  If needed, the doctors who treat patients through LiveHealth Online can even electronically send prescriptions directly to a local pharmacy. It seems like an option that parents have been waiting for, especially for those unexpected illnesses, which always seem to happen at the most inconvenient times.

When your baby gets sick it is truly terrifying. As they get older it really doesn’t get much easier except that they can tell you what hurts and entertain themselves on the computer or TV while they convalesce. And honestly, there is no call I dread more than the school nurse. So I’m pretty big on prevention, especially for flu. One summer my daughter and I both had swine flu, and it had lasting effects on our breathing for a long, long time. My daughters also HATE shots. Hate is not even a strong enough word for it – so I make sure to get an early appointment at the doctor’s office for the flu mist because those appointments book up fast.

I also follow most of these tips from Dr. Mia Finkelston, a family doctor who treats patients through LiveHealth Online:

  • Rest up: Make sure your kids get between 9.5 – 12 hours of sleep each night to restore their bodies, improve their ability to help fight off germs, and reduce their stress levels. (Though my daughters are now fighting me on this since it’s not cool to go to bed before 10pm apparently!)
  • Hands off: Germs are lurking everywhere during the school year and are transported mostly through our hands. Since my girls take the bus to school and have to switch classrooms for all of their classes they are exposed to a gazillion germs every day. Teach your kids to keep their hands away from their face, and make sure they wash hands often, especially before eating.
  • Eat for wellness: Stock up on nutritious foods to help kids and parents function at optimum levels. Kids love to snack. Pack nuts, whole grain crackers, and fruit in their school bag so they don’t head to the vending machine.

I know my daughters are going to get sick. That’s a given. But I also know that my husband and I will get sick, and we are not so great about going to the doctor. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be getting an actual medical opinion (instead of just chugging Nyquil.) There are times where a video chat with a trusted doctor would be ideal since I can’t really take time out of my workday and mom-day. To be able to schedule that virtual doctor visit around my schedule instead of the other way around is perfect. Plus, if you’re a PPO or EPO member of Empire BlueCross BlueShield, a LiveHealth Online visit is covered at the same or lower out-of-pocket cost than a typical office visit, and claims are automatically filed for a fast and easy experience.

Registering for LiveHealth Online is fast and easy and free — just download the app from iTunes or the App Store or Google Play store and sign-up in one quick step. Or, you can visit www.livehealthonline.com/moms and register.  Dr. Finkelston suggests moms download the app when your family is healthy so that when someone does get sick, a doctor is available at mom’s convenience.

You can use try LiveHealth Online by using this special code to get one free virtual visit valued at $49:

LHOBeccarama    (Expires Dec 31st.)

This post was sponsored by LiveHealth Online, but as always, the opinions are my own

The R Baby Foundation: Saving Babies’ Lives and Making ERs Safe for Children

There is perhaps nothing scarier for a parent than having to rush a child to the emergency room.  The feeling of not having control, not being able to fix something yourself, and many times not even knowing what is wrong, but knowing that your child is very sick is terrifying.  Even more frightening is when that child is an infant who can’t tell you anything.  Now imagine that when you reach the ER they don’t have an attending emergency room pediatrician, they don’t have the proper size equipment for a baby, they don’t even have a gown to fit and cover them.  It’s not hard to imagine, because this is reality in over 90% of Emergency Departments (EDs) across the country.

Here are the facts from the R Baby Foundation:

Emergency Pediatric Care Needs Our Help

FACT: Children make up 27% of all emergency department (ED) visits, but only 6% of EDs in the U.S. have the necessary supplies for pediatric emergencies.

FACT: Many drugs and medical devices have not been adequately tested on, or dosed properly for, children – including babies.

FACT: Although pediatric skills deteriorate quickly without practice, continuing education in pediatric care is not required or is extremely limited for many pre-hospital emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

FACT: Emergency medical services and emergency departments are not well equipped to handle pediatric care. Most children receive emergency care in general (not children’s) hospitals, which are less likely to have pediatric expertise, equipment, and policies in place for the care of children.

Join me now in support of the RBaby Foundation mission to education parents, implement standards so all Emergency Departments (EDs) will have to be able to adequately treat, or stabilize and move a young child to a properly equipped ED, train ED doctors and EMTs to treat infants and small children, equip EDs with the right size tools and make our EDs safe and prepared for even the youngest patients.

What you can do:

  1. Sign this petition to implement standards across the nation. And share it!  It takes 1 minute to sign!
  2. Join me at the R Baby 5 Star Gala in New York City on May 9th for an incredible evening of Food & Wine and saving babies lives!
  3. Share your stories at RBabyFoundation.org
  4. Make a Donation.  90% of funds go directly to programs and initiatives – not administration!

Emergency Room visits are scary enough for parents and children, let’s make sure that there can at least be comfort in knowing that they are prepared for the children who come through their doors.

It’s Not Just Another Walk – A Very Personal Perspective on Why Breast Cancer Walks Matter

Today I’m doing something I’ve never done before – I’m posting a guest post.  As part of the Yahoo! Motherboard‘s recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month I wanted to write something that would resonate, be authentic and affect people.  The only way I could even fathom doing this was to have my friend Shari write about her incredibly strong, dynamic and loving mom.  I met Shari 6 years ago when our daughters started preschool and I don’t think I ever knew her mom as a non-breast cancer patient.  I am one of those people who believes that good people – truly honest, sincere, rock solid people don’t just happen – they are formed in the best way by their parents.  Shari is one of those people and there is no doubt that her mom helped make her so.  (Her dad’s pretty great too but that’s a whole other side of Shari I won’t get into here…)  I hope you will read Shari’s guest post and be moved in some way to donate or participate in the fight to find a cure.   At the very least, take 5 minutes to reflect on the women in your life and the way they’ve influenced the person you’ve become.

Throughout the years, my mom was always within arms reach. Whether it was setting up my new dorm room, fielding a helpless phone call after a lackluster term paper, or providing that last supportive hug as I whisked off for my honeymoon, no matter what was happening in her own personal life, she never once dodged any of the emotions, needs or complaints I so often (selfishly) hurled in her direction – even while she was battling terminal metastatic breast cancer.

Five years is a very long time to live with metastatic breast cancer.  There are only so many brain radiation and chemo treatments one can handle before they start taking their toll.  Unfortunately, I remember Mom’s very last hospital stay as if it were yesterday.  Outside, the day was crystal clear.   We were all in her hospital room  (the 3rd one in two weeks) and the grandchildren were on the floor obliviously making “Get Well” pictures to hang on her wall.   Mom asked me to comb her hair and to gently apply lipstick and blush so that the kids “Wouldn’t be able to tell” that she was sick.   After I finished, she let out a sigh and stared out longingly at her grandchildren and watched them play.  It would be the last time she would ever see them play.

Mom was my beacon:  a role model for me throughout grade school, college, marriage and motherhood, a friend with whom to share triumphs and fears, a confidante to my innermost feelings.  Home-cooked meals graced the dinner table every single school night.  Her sideline cheers and support buoyed me through every field hockey game and tennis match.   When I swallowed a bottle of pills at age four and was hospitalized for a week, I’m told mom kept vigil by the bedside.   When I transferred schools in sixth grade and feigned illness for a trip to the nurse’s office (and potentially a ticket home) Mom drove in every time and convinced me to stay.

It’s amazing how much about my mom’s life I learned through her death. I always knew Mom was a very private person.  Yet, her funeral boasted myriad outsiders who were somehow touched by Mom; it was my window into her true depth of compassion for others, even during her personal cancer struggle.  The receiving line represented grieving people from all walks of her life:  the Russian manicurist who looked forward to seeing my mom every week for the last eight years (even during her marathon chemo infusion days), the dry cleaning lady who loved receiving my mom’s crafty hand-written recipes each week, teachers from my grade school (over 35 years ago) who worked with her as class mom and were still kept up to date on my milestones, my high school friends from near and far–one of whom finally told me at the funeral that my mom had taken her to get an abortion her senior year in high school – mom never told me she did any of this.

Mom’s quiet strength prevented most people from even knowing she was deeply suffering from a terminal illness.  She always drove herself alone to her multi-hour chemo treatments at the hospital.  Devoid of emotion, she’d “Plug into” her chest port and start reading her favorite book or finish a crossword puzzle. When her hair fell out, she always had new wigs lined up ready to be styled.  When her eyebrows fell out, without hesitation new ones were tattooed on.  With the fifty -pound weight loss came new, vibrant zany outfits.  She didn’t outwardly pity herself.  She wasn’t willing to allow herself to give in.  She was always a pillar of strength to her friends, to her family and to cancer.  After her funeral, I vowed that I would do anything I could to not only preserve her memory but, to also raise money to help fund breast cancer research, awareness and screenings.  So, for the past two years, I’ve amassed a team of courageous women to walk beside me and a thousand other strangers in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day 60-mile walk.

Participating in the 3-day walk is a vicious physical challenge. The medic tents at every stop are always overflowing with people suffering from exhaustion, dehydration, severe “road rash” and blisters—yet, the physical challenge pales in comparison to a cancer patients’ struggles.  The inspirational journey that takes place is beyond overwhelming.   I meet the most interesting people, from motherless children to 3-time survivors.  I hear their intimate struggles with the disease and how it has affected them or someone close.  Complete strangers become instant friends; we bond through something we despise – cancer.  Along the road I laugh with them, cry with them.  We support each other.  We never forget each other and the constant pain this disease has caused.

I walk the grueling 60-miles with Mom by my side, in my head, and in my heart.  I walk attempting to feel just a small part of her pain and her struggle.  I feel her life force as the wind carries me along the winding route. I walk because I am so angry that Mom is missing years of my life and my children’s life.  There will be no more handwritten notes, no more phone calls on my birthdays, no more fresh banana chocolate chip cake awaiting my Thanksgiving arrival.  Her comforting smell is now only preserved in a sterile perfume bottle I took when cleaning out her medicine cabinet.  I walk with a searing pain through my heart remembering my 5-year old son declare he “couldn’t really remember my mom, “Meema. “

I believe that Mom truly benefited from the anonymous effort of strangers who participate in these fundraising events.  Thanks to advancements in drug research (due in part to funding), Mom definitely lived longer than anyone had anticipated -with a decent quality of life.  How can I not be a part of something that can possibly, even remotely, help others live long, fulfilling lives?

The way I try to live my life is the greatest testament to Mom.  She will be an inspiration to me always – in life and in death.

I walk because everyone deserves a lifetime.

I walk because I can.