Friday, October 19, 2007

On Needing Sleep

Every generation and every culture has its own triumphs and makes it own mistakes. We can often see both the triumphs and the mistakes in our child-rearing practices. In the early parts of the 20th century, prevailing wisdom insisted that a child be picked up as rarely as possible and little physical affection given. From that, a generation of structured, emotionally detached parents emerged. Then we had Dr. Spock and the invasion of what was called “permissive child rearing.” Here, parents imposed fewer and fewer limits on children. Such methodology helped produce the group called “baby boomers,” most of whom have some very interesting memories of the late 60’s and early 70’s when the drug culture went wild and enticed these undisciplined ones into a life of “free love” and excess. I would also suggest most boomers have not really recovered from that—excess (as in excessive consumption, excessive wealth, excessive food, excessive need for therapy) continues to govern the lives of many of that generation. This is the generation of people who thought they could have it all. They were, of course, seriously disappointed.

The current crop of parents, many of whom are children of those excess-driven boomers, now put their stamp on child-rearing. Their children enjoy and/or suffer from an excess of scheduling and ambition. We are seeing a generation of highly accomplished young people, often combining high levels of expertise in academics, athletics, the fine arts, and community or even world service. Yes, they are doing it all.

And just as the baby boomers paid a price for their generational excess, so are those in this young generation paying the price for having it all in their way. They are living with a huge sleep deficit. No one is getting enough rest, and there now seems to be a very strong correlation between inadequate rest and growing obesity, growing numbers diagnosed with ADHD, growing depression, and growing debilitating stress.

Just sleep. People need to sleep more if they really do want to accomplish more. It seems so counter-intuitive. Sleep less, study more, do better, use more calories, stay more slender. That’s what we think. But perhaps, just perhaps we are wrong.

The urge to compete, to win, to dominate, underlies much of the culture of excess, whether we see excess consumerism or excess accomplishment. Human beings spend a lot of time comparing themselves to others, wondering whether we make the mark and how we can move higher in the rankings. This is not necessarily unnatural—the same thing happens in much of the animal world. However, there is a difference between healthy competition and unhealthy competition. There is a difference between a soul that looks forward toward the call of God with the goal of perfection in love and one who looks over his or her shoulder, afraid that someone else might catch up or pass by. One is motivated by love; one is motivated by fear.

Perhaps we need much more rest and down time than we think. Perhaps we need fewer things to do and more time to be. Perhaps we need time to pray and contemplate the glory of God and our part in this created order. Perhaps we really, really need good sleep in order to accomplish anything worthwhile. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Scriptures are right when they call for a holy day of rest, a time with family, a time to worship and regenerate. Perhaps, just perhaps, we’ve got a few priorities out of line these days. Just something to think about . . . when there is time to think.

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