Sleeping Right

At long last, teenagers attending public school in California will get to sleep a little later in the morning. After rejecting a similar measure last year, the California Legislature narrowly passed a bill on Friday night that would mandate that middle and high school start at 8:30 a.m. or later.

According to the Los Angeles Times, lawmakers enthusiastically affirmed the research the bill was based on, which shows that early start times combined with teenagers’ natural sleep schedules lead to sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep, in turn, increases risks of poor grades, mental illness and car accidents. One study found moving start times from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. made students happier and more likely to show up for class.

But the study alone didn’t suffice to convince many lawmakers to support the measure. Although they agreed about the benefits of later start times, they weren’t ready to impose new scheduling headaches on parents who have to drop off their children before work.

“Theory and research come in conflict with practicality,” said Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, a Democrat and former teacher. “Even without an early time slot, I’ve often seen kids dropped off at school at 7 a.m. or earlier.”

Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher pointed out that all school hours can inconvenience working parents, many of whom do not have traditional nine-to-five jobs.

“I come from a district where we have a large population of janitors who work until 2:30, often 3:00 in the morning and then have to wake up at a certain time to take their kids to school,” Gonzalez Fletcher said.

Other objections to mandated start times also create problems for schools as they renegotiate teacher contracts and reschedule extracurricular activities. Districts that stagger bus service might need to buy more buses. Opponents in both parties argued that local governments are better equipped to decide start times based on these kinds of challenges.

“Why have a school district if we’re going to pass this bill?” Democratic Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell asked.

But Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a Democrat, said that school boards would be unable to change school start times, recalling a debate she witnessed over the issue 20 years ago during her career in education.

“You thought somebody had killed everybody’s child, stolen every grandparent on the face of the Earth, blown up everybody’s business, because we were changing start times,” she said.

In the end, the pro-sleep arguments won the majority vote in California.

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In Jewish tradition there is much emphasis on rising early. Many yeshivos begin early in the morning, and the importance of using these most important hours wisely cannot be overstated.

Among the Rebbes who settled in the United States in the 1920s was Harav Baruch Benzion, the Loyev Chernobyler Rebbe, zy”a, who brought along his grandson, orphaned as an infant and raised by the Rebbe.

The Rebbe was distressed to discover that the yeshivah his young grandson attended began at 9:00 a.m.

“Half [the] day is gone!” he exclaimed.

The Rebbe proceeded to hire a melamed to learn with his grandson — who had not yet reached the age of seven — from 5:00 to 7:00 in the morning, after which he would go to davening, eat breakfast and, at 9:00 a.m., join his classmates for a full day of learning. For the next 85 years, the child — Harav Chaim Twersy, the Chernobyler Rav, zt”l — would rise at 5:00 a.m. to begin his avodas Hashem.

At the same time, it must be stressed that getting up early doesn’t mean that one should be deprived of the proper amount of sleep. It means that one should make sure to get to bed at an early hour as well.

Harav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, would often stress the importance of getting eight hours of sleep every night.

“Sleep is very important. It’s more important than food. It’s more important than vitamins. … I can tell you from experience. I know so many people, so many fine people, young people, who ruined their careers of serving Hashem by not sleeping,” he would say.
When asked by an attendee of a shiur for advice how to alleviate some of the stress that he felt, his reply was simple: “Sleep eight hours a night without exception. Eight hours every night without exception! No chasunos, no other simchos. No excuses. If you start sleeping eight hours every night and you do it for a long time, you will discover a great change in your nervous system. A great change! If you take my advice and you’re consistent about it, you’ll never want to go back to your former sleeping habits. You’ll be a different person altogether.

“Now, that’s not the only thing. But it’s one of the first things to do. Most people, you’ll discover, are subject to stress and other nervous disorders because of lack of sleep. Sleep is one of the greatest gifts of Hashem. … Use it the right way and you’ll be a happy man,” he said.


Quotes by Rav Miller are courtesy of Toras Avigdor.