“Sleep is for the weak,” my sister informed me as I rearranged the fluffy pillows by my head and pulled my eye mask over my forehead. No it’s not, I countered silently. It was the first day of our family vacation and, after waking up at 3 AM and taking two flights I was tired, to say the least. If I didn’t get to sleep early that night, I predicted my exhaustion would continue throughout the rest of vacation. So, I went to sleep. The next morning, when I woke up energized and ready to start my day, I knew that my decision had been worth it.
My sister was only joking with me – she went to sleep shortly after I did. It seems, though, that the majority of society agrees with her statement that sleep is for the weak. Being a high school student, I often hear my peers compare the hours of sleep they get as if it’s a competition. The less sleep you have, the harder you worked; or so goes the existing paradigm.
I’ve always gone to sleep earlier than most of my friends. When I attended my first sleepover as a child, the host’s mom told us that she had a prize for the first person to fall asleep. I won, and received a pair of slippers for my efforts. Now, as a teenager, I don’t receive slippers when I fall asleep, but I do get a plethora of other benefits. I can focus better in school; I feel happier and more present; and I’m sure there are many health perks I’m not even aware of.
This being said, it’s easy to see why many teenagers struggle to find time to sleep. Balancing schoolwork, co-curriculars, sports, part-time jobs, volunteer positions, hobbies, time with family and friends, and sleep is no easy feat. And, with only 24 hours in a day, teens can only pick a few of those things to focus their time on. Since schoolwork, co-curriculars, and jobs are important for post-secondary applications and paying tuition costs, most teens focus on these. Sleep often becomes neglected, sacrificed to finish an essay or work the closing shift.
Obviously, if you have a job with demanding hours, or are involved in a sport that practices late at night, sleep becomes difficult. Making a small effort goes a long way, though (and often, cutting time spent on social media can contribute to extra sleeping time). Once you get into the habit, sleep creates a positive cycle; getting a good amount of sleep means you’ll feel more awake and able to take on everything else you have to do, meaning you’ll be able to sleep better (and sooner), and so on.
Sometimes people at school ask me how I get more sleep than they do, and still finish my homework on time. I tell them that I manage my time and stay organized, which is true; but something else I do differently is that I place a high priority on time spent sleeping. As I mentioned earlier, many people are stuck in the “sleep is for the weak” mentality. This has dire consequences for individuals, and, really, for society as a whole.
To solve this, we need is a shift in the way we view sleep (and the priority we place on it). Thanks to Arianna Huffington, this shift is gaining momentum. Her Twitter bio describes her as a “sleep evangelist”, and she has a new book coming out in April called The Sleep Revolution. I had a chance to hear Arianna speak last June, and in both that speech and her previous novel, Thrive, she talked about her journey learning to value sleep. She once became so burned out that she collapsed on her office floor and hit her head on her way down. When she woke up surrounded in a pool of blood, she realized she needed to redefine the way she – and society – value success.
One of Arianna’s pillars of success is well-being, and sleep definitely plays a large role in this. If you want to feel inspired to get more sleep, follow Arianna on Twitter. She is constantly posting links to articles that outline not only how to get more sleep, but the benefits of sleeping more. She is the leader of the #SleepRevolution, and I stand behind her.
Sleep is important for everyone, but I want to champion sleep for teens. Instead of holding the hours of sleep received on the fingers of one hand and a can of Red Bull in the other, I wish more teens were able to embrace a full night’s sleep. Sleep is not for the weak – it is for the strong, and it makes you even stronger. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go catch some Z’s…