I had to get up quite early yesterday morning to accompany Mike to the doctor’s office for a glucose tolerance test. It was still dark outside when I arose but there were already children standing on the corner waiting for the school bus. When we left the sun was barely rising over the horizon and yet the streets were crowded with people on their way to work. I was thankful that I no longer have to rush out of the house each morning as I did in the years when I was working. I also thought about an article that I recently read that reported the results of a study that found that most Americans are sleep deprived.
When I was young there was much talk about how technology would one day allow mankind to work less. Back then prognosticators insisted that we would eventually see twenty to thirty hour work weeks and enjoy much more time for relaxation with our families. Forecasters described a wonderful world in which machines would help us to realize the best of ourselves with less effort. Of course, we all know that few people work shorter hours today. In fact they may even work more. The promised technological innovations have made it easier for fewer employees to accomplish tasks. Instead of shortening the hours of work, most organizations have simply reduced the number of workers that they hire. Most of the people that I know, including young children, seem to be filling more and more minutes of every single day with activities that actually serve to diminish the time that they have to sleep. Our nation is filled with people who are exhausted.
I’ve seen little ones being carried into schools half asleep as their parents rush to drop them off so that they will arrive at their jobs on time. I remember many mornings with I was already at work just as the sun rose and arrived back home well after dark. I was never alone. In fact, the roads were always filled with other people fighting their way through congested traffic in the dark. I felt like a rat in a maze and usually consumed large amounts of caffeinated drinks to keep my brain working when all it really wanted was to snooze a bit longer.
I was tired most of the time and my students seemed to be even more exhausted. They often dragged into class barely able to keep their heads from slumping onto their desks. Some of them admittedly needed better time management but others were excellent students who generally studied into the wee hours of the morning and existed on less than six hours of sleep each night. Their lives were so filled with responsibilities that it took every second of every day to fulfill their duties.
Now that I am retired I finally get eight hours of slumber on a regular basis; Sadly my sleep is usually measured in fits and spurts of one or two hour intervals of deep sleep followed by several minutes of wake time with the routine repeating itself multiple times per night. I am an insomniac by nature. Because I no longer work I get to take advantage of the hours between three and seven when I generally get my longest stretch of uninterrupted snoozing, a luxury that was denied me for decades when I had to be well on my way to work by six thirty in the morning. I now enjoy my body’s inner clock without having to artificially reprogram it to comply with the rest of the world.
According to the National Sleep Foundation we need different amounts of sleep at different stages in our lives. The general recommendations are as follows:
Newborns 14-17 hours
Infants 12-15 hours
Toddlers 11-14 hours
Preschoolers 10-13 hours
School Age Children 9-11 hours
Teenagers 8-10 hours
Younger Adults 7-9 hours
Adults 7-9 hours
Older Adults 7-8 hours
I’ve done a bit of calculating based purely on personal observation and it seems to me as though many people in the age groups between toddlers and adults may be particularly lacking in an appropriate amount of sleep time. If a school age child needs at least nine hours of sleep and must catch a bus by seven in the morning a bit of calculation indicates that they must be snoozing in bed no later than nine each evening and ideally by eight.
With the number of after school activities and the amount of homework and projects that kids have in today’s world evenings are often quite frantic and the adults who teach them and sponsor their recreation don’t always take that into account. Only recently I worked with my granddaughter on a four page review for mathematics that took us well over two hours to complete. I might have been more supportive of the teacher had she provided the students with several work days in advance of the due date but she had given it to the members of the class that very day and wanted it completed and returned the following day.
My granddaughter doesn’t arrive home before five each afternoon and she invariably has homework in multiple subjects. On the occasion of the gargantuan math assignment she also had to study for two tests and complete an essay. That gave her exactly four hours in which to eat dinner, do all of her homework, bathe and prepare herself for bed if she was to get at least nine hours of sleep before rising at six the following morning so that she might catch her bus once again. Sadly she did not make the deadline even though she was working quite hard from the moment that she arrived home that evening. Such scenarios are not all that rare for today’s students.
My experience with teenagers convinced me that few of them ever achieved the baseline of eight hours of sleep on a regular basis. Many of them spoke of being awake well after midnight on most nights and only catching five or six hours of shut eye. I knew that my first period students were often still in the process of becoming fully awake. Add to this the reality that many of them didn’t have time to eat breakfast in the morning and it made for a rather tired group of pupils.
I suspect that most adults are even more sleep deprived than their children. Even if they manage to create routines that provide their youngsters with the recommended amount of rest, they often use the hours when the kids are sleeping to complete the household chores. When I was working I existed on six hours of sleep or less on a regular basis. I often wondered if there was something wrong with me because I never seemed to be able to get my home running smoothly. I didn’t understand why my energy level always seemed to be so low. Now that I actually get my fill of sleep each night I get more done in a single day than ever before. I am an unstoppable dynamo and all that I needed to be that way was a little bit more time in a state of slumber.
We live in a world that will seemingly leave us behind if we don’t keep up the pace. Unfortunately somewhere along the line we have neglected the one aspect of good health that is perhaps the easiest to achieve. In our race to become the best we push ourselves and our children, often with disturbing results. I only wish that those in control of schools and workplaces would take the realities of living into consideration before imposing so readily on people’s personal schedules. We need to chart out the number of available hours in each day and allow enough time for our children and our workforce to enjoy their families and their slumbers. If we know that they will spend two hours of every day just traveling, we should take that into account. In many ways we have gone backwards in our progress and become more reminiscent of the horrible times when people regularly labored unabated for twelve or more hours each day. Instead of providing ourselves with extra time we have found ways to add more and more and more to our plates. The result is a nation of very tired people.