Sleep Deprived


Let me start with a caveat. I never had children; I’ve never had to spend much time caring for them. I’m sure a kid who won’t go to sleep is annoying. People have written books about it. Still, the two times I was asked to get a reluctant child to go to sleep, I succeeded both times. So, in baseball terms, I’m batting a thousand.

Still, some things seem like common sense to me. Like, giving your children drugs to help them sleep is not a good idea. Even if they are naturally occurring substances like melatonin. Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance but you wouldn’t give that to your kids (unless you are some sort of psychotic monster).

This little thought came to me while listening to the CBC interview a mother who was having trouble getting her eight year old to go to sleep. She went to her health food store and they actually advised her not to do it because it might be unsafe. Good for them! She held off for a year until ‘a friend she trusted’ said: no it’s okay. Her naturopath agreed. It is naturally occurring in the body so maybe there is a lack. No tests were done to verify this conclusion. (Do naturopaths do ‘tests?’)

She gave the kid the drug and, glory be, he went to sleep. In the old days, you gave kids tonic to help them sleep. It didn’t have melatonin; it had alcohol and plenty of it. Worked a charm. These days you might also try valium.

When asked if she had consulted her doctor – you know a real M.D. – she said not about the melatonin, well, not about the sleep issue at all. When it was pointed out that doctors don’t recommend melatonin for kids, she retorted to the effect that it wasn’t like heroin; her kid wasn’t jonesing for the stuff when the cut it back in the summer. And besides as a parent, you have to judge risk versus reward.


Since the main reward was that she and her husband no longer had to spend their evenings getting the kid to sleep it seems to me – just commonsensically – that her formula is a bit askew. Of course, if I was in the position, I might agree that drugging the kid was preferable to smothering him.

We are often under the impression that a general education – say a B.A. in history – a good job and being articulate substitutes for paying attention to evidence or science. It’s a bit like the anti-vaxxers; they sort of sound reasonable (well the ones who aren’t raving lunatics) until you actually listen to what they say. Then they sound like members of the flat earth society or your run-of-the-mill climate denier.

Being progressive in many things is no protection from being dumb. When asked about a colleague who was pursuing UFOs as a topic of research, a Nobel laureate in physics replied: A Ph.D. is no inoculation against foolishness. Neither is a B.A.

When the interviewer asked if she thought her parenting was being judged. I answered for her as I turned off the radio. Yes, you’re damn right it is.

And that is ten dyspeptic minutes.

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