(Part Two of this article can be found here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/07/14/part-two-of-a-waldorf-inspired-view-of-sleep/
Also, if you run “sleep” in the Search Engine box, many posts will come up – happy reading!)
Whew! Volumes and volumes have been written about sleep, co-sleeping, sleep and breastfeeding, trying to get an infant, toddler or preschooler to sleep, and the like. It can be so overwhelming!! It can be especially overwhelming when you are sleep-deprived and trying to sift through all this “sleep help”, LOL!
Sleep and rest are cornerstones of Waldorf-inspired parenting and education. Waldorf Education is the ONLY educational method that utilizes a rhythm of teaching in conjunction with sleep in order to aid learning!
Today, we are going to peek at some of the physiologic and anthroposophic views of the foundation of sleep. Hang in there with me and I will try to make what I have read and digested as plain as possible. Donna Simmons of Christopherus also has an audio download in her bookshop on “Sleep”; I do not have it yet but have it on my list for upcoming purchase because I am just garnering lots of information regarding sleep and Waldorf education. The link to the audio CD is here: http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/bookstore-for-waldorf-homeschooling/audio-downloads.html
Here is an article entitled, “The Importance of Sleep” by Susan Johnson, a MD with an anthroposophic perspective: http://www.waldorflibrary.org/Journal_Articles/GW4003.pdf. There are also several other articles available regarding sleep through www.waldorflibrary.org if you just use “sleep” in the Search Engine Box.
There are several reasons why sleep and rest especially in a child under the age of 7, (and also in children and adults of all ages!) are considered vitally important from an anthroposophic standpoint.
1. The years of birth through age 7 are seen as the foundation for the humanity of the child, for the unfolding of the soul, and especially for the basis of the ages of 35-42 in later life.
2. The ability of the child to perform intellectual work in the grades is dependent upon the development of the well-developed lower senses of the 12 senses and also of the systems that Steiner termed the nerve-sense organs/brain/nervous system. The only time the body has physical growth is during SLEEP.
3. A young child is unified in body, soul and spirit and all sense impressions go right into the child without any ability on the part of the child to censor these impressions. These impression form the physical body, and sleep is the way these impressions build up the physical body.
In anthroposophic thought, sleep is not only the place where the etheric body takes in these sense impressions and uses them within the physical body, it is the place where the etheric body itself is built up and renewed. The primary organ to do this is the LIVER (see the link to the Susan Johnson article I listed above).
The LIVER follows a very rhythmic pattern. From the article, “Toward Human Development: The Physiological Basis of Sleep,” author Lisa Gromicko writes:
“Carbohydrates are synthesized into sugars (glycogen), which are then stored in the liver during its “night” assimilatory phase beginning at 3 p.m. and peaking at 3 a.m. These stored sugars are converted to blood glucose during the daytime for the activities of consciousness beginning at 3 a.m., though the catabolic (breaking down) influence of the gall bladder in the liver until about 3 p.m. Here, we can see the importance of going to sleep early: 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. for children and 9-10:00 p.m. for adults. Staying up late causes the liver to reverse its storing-up activity intended for the next day and to instead begin converting glycogen to glucose for energy, thus we get a “second wind” (especially children). This explains the worn-out feeling the next morning and the daylong physiologic struggle to keep up (Johnson).”
Rhythm is what supports the foundation of sleep, and a lack of sleep not only places a great stress upon the liver as noted, but also an anthroposophic viewpoint is that lack of rhythm also places stress on the heart and adrenal glands. Gromicko writes, “The more sleep-deprived a child is, the more excitable he will be, and some children in this condition are constantly in various states of arousal. The stress hormones produced in response to arousal tax the liver greatly. Blood pressure, breath, and heart rate accelerate, as well as many other processes, which the heart as central to the rhythmic system must mediate.”
More to come in a future post regarding naps, sleep, and rhythm!