The school day is beginning a little later for students at some high schools in the United States. According to a couple of articles I saw recently, researchers have found that teens’ sleep cycles are different from those of adults. When classes started early—for example, before 8 a.m.—many teens were sleep-deprived. When two schools in Seattle moved the start time ahead by almost an hour, some students’ grades went up, and at one school the incidence of lateness and absences went down.
It makes sense to me. Teenagers’ schedules are crowded with classes, activities, sports and volunteer work. Homework requires time and concentration, and extra time is needed for writing papers, doing special projects and studying for tests. No wonder the kids get to bed late and have trouble concentrating in the early morning.
It also makes sense to me because I’m an inveterate night person. I’ve been making resolutions for decades to go to bed earlier and get up earlier. It never happens, even though I know it’s more healthful and practical than burning the midnight oil. There are always other things to do that either need doing—like the dishes—or entice me, like reading a book or watching a television show or movie.
The topic has been on my mind even more lately, with September upon us. Like many of us, I think of September as a kind of “new year” because it’s the month when school starts and activities resume for kids and adults after the summer break. We think of summer as a time for rest and relaxation, and fall as a time for being busy—maybe too busy.
Perhaps we need to bring some of the peacefulness of that summer mindset into autumn. Being active is a good thing when we’re focused and filled with energy. But if we start to feel tired and overwhelmed, then it’s time for a break, or maybe a revision of our schedule.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus sends the Apostles out to preach the Gospel and heal the sick. Mark writes that later, “The Apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves” (Mk 6:30-32).
Jesus, who seems tireless in his mission to preach the Gospel, instructs the Apostles to withdraw and refresh themselves.
How do we apply that to ourselves? How do we manage to “rest a while” when there is so much to do? Mark did not tell us what kind of lonely place the Apostles went to. Was it a desert, a garden, a stretch of land by the Sea of Galilee? We don’t know, and maybe there’s meaning in that: We have to find our own “lonely place” to withdraw to. It might be a physical place, or it might be a place in our own heart that we can find the way to in a quiet setting—a church, a room at home or a favorite spot outdoors, whether it’s a big park or a small backyard.
I’ve tried all of those places and found that all of them work. What matters most is not the physical place, but the interior space. If we can quiet our minds and our souls, even for a few minutes, we can refresh our spirits wherever we are. We can pray more easily and freely. We can renew ourselves for whatever lies ahead.
Of course, it’s not just the mind and soul that need refreshment. The body needs rest, too. That’s part of what Jesus meant when he told the Apostles to “rest a while.” I’m glad that researchers are talking about students’ need for a little more sleep. That’s a good idea for all of us. It’s time for me to take my own advice and start getting to bed earlier.