Sunday, September 30, 2012


This is Mr. Weber's talk to students on October 1, 2012.

We all want it. We don’t get enough of it. We are less without it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to students in Dr. Noah’s class make a presentation on why school should begin later—the arguments, incidentally, were very compelling—but at least three presentations made the point that students don’t get enough sleep at JPII partly because they regard sleep as a luxury—that if they’re getting more than 5-6 hours on a weeknight, they feel guilty about it, as if they were wasting time, or being lazy. (The science, by the way, says teenagers should be getting 8-10 hours of sleep each night. I’d wager a bet that almost NONE of you come close to that.)

Part of the problem is we’re all too busy. The forty-hour work week is no more; the average American works 46 hours/week, almost the equivalent of an extra day, and almost 40% of America works in excess of fifty hours on average. But it’s more than that. The promise of technology was to make our lives simpler and more efficient, but it’s also made us slaves to the present. It’s hard to have a five-minute, uninterrupted conversation with someone without that conversation being interrupted by a text message or phone call. We’re annoyed if we don’t get back text messages back within a few seconds of sending it. The modern day problem of texting and driving is just an extension of the same thing: it’s as if we’re wasting time in the car, merely driving somewhere, when we could be multi-tasking.

I feel badly for those of you who are dating: It used to be that if your boyfriend or girlfriend called on your home phone or dorm phone and you suspected it was him or her and didn’t feel like talking, you just didn’t answer it, pretending you weren’t there. Occasional distance is sometimes good for relationships. But with cell phones or texting, if you don’t answer, he or she knows you’re just ignoring the call. So you’re always “on call. “

None of this is healthy, really. Dr. Noah will tell you it’s not just that we all go to bed too late. It’s that we sleep with our cell phones on, that before we’ve gone to bed we’ve likely spent hours in front of computer screens, and that the light from those screens resets our body clocks so that even when we lay down to rest we lay there wired up, unable to fall asleep quickly. The quality of our sleep has diminished in this country, which is why sleep doctors like Dr. Noah have such successful practices.

Experts say we can do some practical things to improve both the quality and quantity of our sleep, and I pass these on to you:
  • First, about an hour before going to bed, we should stay away from computers, cell phones, and all other forms of “blue light” that prevents our bodies from secreting melatonin, the sleep hormone.  Experts suggest reading a book instead.
  • Second, we should sleep in bedrooms that are pitch black. Our bodies respond to light, and light prolongs our natural drowsiness.
  • Third, cut down on coffee and the so called "power drinks", especially in the afternoon or later.  Marketers are clever to call these “energy” drinks, as if they give us some sort of secret power that will give us the edge up on our competitors. But really, they’re mostly just liquid caffeine and sugar that give us a temporary high before we crash. 
  • Fourth, try to even out the peaks and valleys between weekends and weekdays. The problem with staying up until 3 a.m. and sleeping until 3 p.m. on weekends is that our body clocks reset to these times, making Monday and Tuesday mornings almost useless to us because our bodies are telling us we should be asleep at those times. If you’re an athlete and want to perform at your best for a Monday or Tuesday game, the best thing you can do is try and keep a similar schedule on Saturday and Sunday mornings, waking up at mid-morning, perhaps, but not allowing your clocks to reset entirely.
  • Fifth, we should spend time outdoors each day, preferably getting some exercise. If you’re a member of the cross-country team, you’re set. But a lot of us spend the entirety of our lives indoors, walking back and forth to the car at most. Our bodies need the natural light to regulate our sleep cycles.
  • Finally—and I know how hard this is—we should simply make ourselves go to bed earlier. When I went to college, I used to pull all-nighters before big tests, but after a year of mediocre performances, I started studying less the night before and going to bed earlier, with better results. The truth is, we’re not studying very efficiently past 11 p.m. anyway—whatever we may gain after midnight probably doesn’t make up for what we will lose from our lack of alertness the next morning.  If you want to do well on tests—including the ACT and SAT—give yourself eight hours or so on the TWO nights leading up to that test.

Sleep is NOT a luxury.  It’s how we regenerate. It’s how God made us. There's nothing better than putting our head down at night on a soft, fluffy pillow and allowing ourselves to slowly drift away. Why we fight bringing ourselves to that point, I don't know. But let's fight it less! 

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