Cornell’s sleep doctor has done it again. Last week, Prof. James B. Maas, psychology, released a children’s book that is drawing a fire of media attention. Remmy and the Brain Train (Maas Presentations, $16.95) has won the “Best 100 Children’s Products” award and, since the release of the book, Dr. Maas has been fielding an average of 10 media requests per week.
Maas said the book came after a realization that America’s children aren’t getting enough zzz’s.
“A lot of teachers have thought that these kids had [Attention Deficit Disorder], ” Maas said in an interview with The Sun. “But it turns out that a good number of these kids are not A.D.D. kids, they’re just sleep deprived.”
After talking with local teachers, Maas discovered that it was not uncommon for kindergartners to fall asleep during class.
“They told me, ‘by nine or ten o’clock they have their heads down on the table,'” he said.
What is particularly misleading about children, according to Maas, is that unlike adults, kids tend to become hyper-active when they’re over-tired at night. Due to changes in lifestyle, such as the increasing occurrence of two-career families, coupled with the invention of new technologies, kids are staying up past bedtime.
“The kids are taken to the grocery stores and the malls later at night, rather than being put down, because the parents want some quality time (with their kids),” Maas said.
Video games, television and the Internet can also interfere with the creation of an earlier and more consistent bedtime for youngsters.
“The more I look into it, the more I see that these kids are being hammered from every direction. Plus the fact that some of the teachers and parents of these kids don’t know diddly about sleep hygiene and sleep requirements,” he noted.
Maas joined the faculty at Cornell in 1964. Since then he has conducted research in student sleep habits and even the effects of various mattress surfaces on a good night’s sleep. In the last 15 years, however, he has become somewhat of a sleep spokesperson. Vogue Magazine called him “America’s sleep evangelist.”
Maas’ research has shown that lack of sleep is an underestimated foe.
“[Sleep] is probably one of the most important determinants of how successful our life is going to be. It’s the major determinant of longevity, more so than exercise and nutrition,” he said.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 63 percent of Americans have insomnia at least one night a week, and 43 percent of us are not getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep, as demonstrated through Dr. Maas’ protagonist Remmy, can make us feel moody, foggy-headed and mentally slower. Sleep deprivation in children can lead to lessened control of motor skills, including increased clumsiness.
As Dr. Maas describes it, Remmy and the Brain Train is “the first book ever written for children about what really goes on in your body and your brain during sleep.”
The book contains a free read and sing-a-long CD and is designed for children ages four through eight.
The goal of the book, Maas described, is to provide a way in which young kids can interact and explore while learning about how to properly care for their sleep needs. At remmyweb.com children can now play games and work on puzzles that further enforce the book’s main message. The website was designed for Maas by Ithaca High School junior Joel Lowenstein, and is reportedly receiving up to 8,000 hits a day.
Maas has appeared on Oprah, The Today Show and Good Morning America, and last week USA Today ran an article on his newly released book. This morning he is scheduled to appear once more on The Today Show, but according to Maas all of this media attention isn’t distracting him from his role at Cornell.
“Cornell kids e-mail me all the time saying ‘I sat in [Psychology] 101, and I kind of didn’t believe you — I don’t think I could get even eight hours of sleep.'”
After they put his research into practice, however, some of his students reported to him, “I never knew what it was like to be awake before!”
Maas said getting the right amount of sleep can be like a “religious, drug-free experience.”
In Maas’ experience, lack of sleep in college students mostly stems from lack of effective time management.
“Often, we postpone doing the work until late at night after we’ve done all these other things and then we say, it’s my homework that’s keeping me up,” he said.
Maas also mentioned new research that positively correlates hours spent sleeping with higher grades.
“I am thrilled to be able to work with one of the hottest areas in medicine today. Sleep affects everybody; be they ones with sleep disorders or just normal active energetic Americans. I couldn’t be having more fun doing this.”
As for the future of sleep science, for Maas the possibilities seem endless.
“I could foresee, certainly in the next five to ten years, a cure for jetlag