Friday, June 11, 2010

Sleep Starved

When I was an elementary school student, my bedtime was 7:30 p.m., into my PJs and after a bedtime story, and off to the land of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. (Sunday was an exception, when I would have a bath and be ready for bed in time to stay up for The Wonderful World of Disney. But as soon as Tinkerbell blinked into the credits, off I would go.) Over time, my bedtime became later and later. By high school, though I was usually hitting the hay by 10 or 10:30 p.m. Staying up later than 11 p.m. on a school night, maybe to finish up a school project, was a rare occasion.

Nowadays that's when some of my students are just getting off work. They left school at 2:30 p.m. and punched the time clock until this late hour. How much homework can they get done, returning home at eleven o'clock? Worse yet, they drag themselves through the next day, and the next, till they take a day off school to catch up. More interested in making a buck to support fashion, cars, and college funds, school becomes a drag, an interruptive burden in their busy lives. Afterall, when do they have time to catch up on Facebook and Twitter?

A few parents have bemoaned to me that social networking sites are the ruination of their kids' study habits. Students tell me they are up till 2 or 3 a.m. on these sites.

On June 7, 2010, NPR reported on some of the latest sleep research that (again) suggests that we all, but especially children, preschool to college, need more sleep. These reports say that ten hours a night would be beneficial to cognitive development. It likely would make us smarter as well as healthier. I wish I could get that much during the school year myself.

Last night, after my last day of school for the term, I eked out a luxurious eight. I have to admit, I like the recommended ten. Still, most school nights I am lucky to get five or six, but I do try to sneak in a one-to-two-hour nap in the late afternoon, before a few more hours of grading and prep for the next day. I clock at least thirty hours per week of school work in addition to the regular duty, so weekend sleep is key to an exhausting routine for ten months out of the year.

I'm glad that my parents set a strict bedtime when I was young. Getting me off to bed at 7:30 p.m. no doubt gave them some much needed time for their lives as well as providing my brain and body needed rest. As I grew older my parents stressed my trying to get my homework done before dinner. This gave me time to relax, watch television, or play in the neighborhood before a reasonable 9 or 10 o'clock bedtime. Or, on busy homework nights, time to finish up before the parental curfew.

Ah, those halcyon days.  As I teach seniors Macbeth, Shakespeare describes slumber so well:

     Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
     The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
     Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
     Chief nourisher in life's feast--

"Life feast"--of which most of my students are showing signs of starvation.
Image credit: "Asleep at the Wheel." By Aaron Jacobs. 17 Nov. 2005. Flickr.
Used by permission via Creative Commons: BY-SA.

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