Sleep is very important to me. I spend a good deal of my life not getting enough of it. During those times, it was a struggle to get through each exhausted day. I’m glad I don’t have to live that way any more.
My problem is that I need more sleep than most people in order to feel rested and energetic. In high school, I realized that I needed ten hours of sleep to function at 100%. That’s the amount I would sleep when I didn’t set an alarm and let my body tell me when to wake up. In reality, I was getting around five to six hours a night on school nights.
There was a Tonight Show interview with Johnny Carson that resonated with me. Johnny was interviewing a comedian, actor, producer and also physician, named Jonathan Miller. He was part of the British comedy troupe Beyond The Fringe with Dudley Moore in the 1960’s.
I was struck by the fact that he said that he needed to get twelve hours of sleep every day! I was thrilled to know that I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t get by on the proverbial eight hours sleep a night that was thought to be the optimum for adults. Jonathan Miller was very accomplished in many different fields, so I stopped worrying about my own ‘excessive’ sleep needs.
As a young lawyer and then a young mother, I rarely got more than six hours sleep. I could catch up a little on weekends but not enough. I was perpetually depriving my brain and my body of the sleep they needed. I was usually running on fumes. I was always trying to find twenty minutes during the day when I could close my eyes and nap. I counted the number of hours left before I could go to sleep. As in “ You only have to get through five more hours before you can get some sleep.”
I’m amazed that I functioned as well as I did. I was very determined and highly motivated. I must also have had an ample supply of adrenalin. But I usually felt like I was hanging on by a thread. My body felt battered and my mind was struggling through the fog on most days. This didn’t help my anxiety and depression either.
When my kids went to high school, they had to be in class at 7:20 AM. I thought that was way too early. I’ve recently read articles that say that teenagers actually need more sleep than adults or younger children. Studies show that it would make a big difference if starting times for high schools were even one hour later. Grades would improve, behavioral problems would go down and kids would have a more positive attitude to school. I think that the major obstacle to pushing starting times forward, is that after school programs would run too late. If that is the case, then teens’ performance in school and enjoyment of school suffers because of the importance of sports in our schools. This makes no sense to me.
Teenagers need the extra sleep so their bodies and brains can grow properly. It’s not just ‘beauty sleep’ at their age. The teen years are difficult enough for most kids. It’s cruel to add to the emotional and physical issues of the teenage years by making them function through a haze of exhaustion.
I’m retired now so I can make sure that I get the amount of sleep my body needs. For me now, that’s closer to twelve hours than ten. But whatever it is, I plan my schedule around my sleep needs, not the other way around. I can’t get the most out of my days if I don’t. And at my age, it’s all about quality of life over quantity of time awake.