Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sleep Is For Wusses – An Idea Kids Are Learning All Too Well

From Ash:

Between Po and myself, I think we have interviewed at least 20 of the world's sleep experts.

Every one of them complained that exhaustion is a huge national health-issue. And every one of them also railed against the way our society sees that exhaustion as a virtue.

Indeed, our 24-7 society doesn’t tolerate sleepiness. We don't think of sleep as a biological imperative. Instead, we think of it as a character flaw – a sign of weakness. University of Minnesota's Dr. Mark Mahowald says that he's even heard parents say that exhaustion is actually good for children – because it teaches them a good work-ethic. Continuing with this logic, the parents actually argue that getting enough sleep would actually be bad for children, because valuing sleep would teach kids to be lazy. If nothing else, they argue, sleep deprivation will prepare kids for the exhaustion they'll face as adults.

Perhaps most tellingly – these parents also say that if they're tired, then their kids should be, too.

That’s what it really comes down to. For adults, sleep has become a luxury good; it’s considered an indulgence, not a necessity. And I'll be the first to admit that I myself have had that point of view – I'm one of those "Sleep When You're Dead" girls. Even as I've slathered the concealer on, trying in vain to cover up the circles under my eyes, I've considered those dark shadows as badges of honor.

We sell a story to ourselves that Sleep is for Wusses. And apparently, our kids buy into it, too.

For the past several years, a childhood friend of mine, Bridget Persons, now a San Diego, California high school English teacher, has given her students a district-mandated final exam. The students are supposed to read a couple articles on teens’ need for sleep, and then they're to write a persuasive letter to the Board of Ed as whether or not school start times should be changed.

Bridget’s school starts at 7:15 am. To get there, many of her students are already on school buses at 6am.

Her students never miss the irony. They’re taking a 7:15 am final exam about how teens’ brains are still asleep at 7:15. Between the readings and their own experience, the students are convinced that there’s a problem. They feel passionately enough about it that they always get into a big discussion after the test.

But out of hundreds of student essays she’s read, Bridget says only one student ever asked for more than a scant 15 or 30 more minutes of sleep.

They have this gut instinct that (correctly) even just 15 minutes or so more would help a little.

The kids all want even more sleep than that – they feel it would make a real difference – but asking for more than that just isn't something they feel they can do. Practically, they just can’t figure out how to fit sleep into their busy lives. Their school is a performing arts magnet; rehearsals frequently last until 8 pm. Home at nine with homework to do, an extra hour of sleep is an extravagance well out of their reach.

I don't know what grades they are getting on those essays, but it's clear that they’ve already mastered society's lesson: The show must go on.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Kerry said...

Bizarre - in New Zealand the standard school day starts at 8:50 or 9:00 and even then students struggle to wake up in time.

2:44 PM  

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