SOCORRO, New Mexico (STPNS) -- To the Editor:

Getting children ready for school is like preparing astronauts for a trip to the space station. There is the clothing, the medical checkups, the backpack and all the equipment, as well as the paperwork. Have you started your countdown for the liftoff?  

Like astronauts, our children need to be alert when they arrive at school. Dr. Barry Krakow, an Albuquerque physician and author of the book “Sound Sleep, Sound Mind,” says the six most common sources of energy are oxygen, food, water, caffeine, exercise and sleep. The energy source, when lacking, that causes the greatest incapacity is sleep. Sleep is an energy generator that recharges our mind and body. The one problem that hampers the learning process over which the teacher has absolutely no control is drowsiness or sleep deprivation.  

Drowsy students have always been one of the biggest frustrations for teachers, but in recent years, the problem has been exasperated by new digital communication devices. Students staying up late at night texting or talking on cell phones with their friends or surfing the Internet have been robbed of countless hours of needed sleep. Some are watching TV or DVD movies and others playing video games in their rooms after the family is asleep.  

In a national survey in 2006, only 20 percent of American teens said they get nine hours of sleep a night. Nearly half sleep less than eight hours on school nights, and 28 percent of high school students reported falling asleep in school at least once a week. Dr. Myrza Perez, a pediatric pulmonologist in Folsom, Calif., said, “We all have this 24-7 lifestyle, and as technologies become more prevalent, the problem just gets worse.”  

Sleep deprivation results in irritability, fatigue and anxiety, leading to depression and overeating, to counter the low energy level, often leading to obesity. Those who get the proper hours of sleep have less a need for other medications. They are more alert, optimistic and much more capable to learn new concepts and be more creative.  

This is an opportunity for parents to prepare their children for a good and enjoyable learning experience by removing all cell phones, video games, DVDs, personal computers and any other electronic devise after 9 p.m. for high school students and 8 p.m. for all other students. It is not unreasonable to have lights out at 10 p.m. for high school students on school nights. Having a structure that will allow for adequate sleep will greatly aid the physical, mental and emotional development of children and establish good habits for the rest of their lives.

Such a discipline is not only needed by our children, but for adults as well. Many industrial accidents, auto accidents and errors in judgment are caused by sleep deprivation. An analysis of safety records for 2003 to 2006 showed that hundred of pilots, mechanics and air-traffic controllers reported fatigue led them to make mistakes on the job, including six cases where pilots fell asleep in mid flight. Likewise, many medical workers, teachers, engineers, construction workers, and so on, have been hampered by sleep deprivation.

This is an area where parents can contribute greatly to the welfare of their children and the overall welfare of our society. It might be interesting if parents told their children’s teachers they intend to help their children get the proper number of hours of sleep. The teachers could track those students performance and compare it with the rest of the class to see how much difference it makes.  

We don’t want our young astronauts to be “spaced out” in the classroom. Life is an exciting trip with many opportunities if you are awake to enjoy it.  

Rev. Doug May