Marlen Garcia: Advice for the college-bound: Get some sleep

SHARE Marlen Garcia: Advice for the college-bound: Get some sleep
SHARE Marlen Garcia: Advice for the college-bound: Get some sleep

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During my senior year of high school, many years ago, an Olympic champion gave my classmates and me advice just months before we headed to college.

I took the advice to heart, and more than ever, it’s valuable.

The speaker was 1972 Olympic marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter, who also won silver in the 1976 Games. He opened with a video clip of an Olympic run, and he had my attention.

Boy, this guy is accomplished, I remember thinking. Shorter had attended Yale and while there won an NCAA championship in the 10,000 meters. The Olympic medals spoke volumes. He went on to get a law degree.

The advice he gave? He probably offered a fair amount, but here’s what stuck with me:

Get some sleep. A lot of it, actually.


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He was an Ivy Leaguer. An NCAA champion. The greatest endurance athlete of his time. And he said he slept. A lot. At least eight hours a day.

I spent my high school years barely sleeping, it seemed. School started at 8 a.m., and I had to be there by 7:30 for club meetings. After school there were school newspaper meetings, practices for one sport or another, work and last but not least, homework.

But in college I made sleep a priority, heeding Shorter’s advice. As often as possible, I scheduled classes for 10 a.m. or later so I could sleep late. That’s when I discovered that rest was a wonderful thing.

I bring this up because sleep is getting harder and harder for kids to come by.

Their lives are scheduled to the hilt with play dates, sports, dance practices and homework. They stay up late chatting and posting on tablets and smartphones.

School start times certainly don’t do them any favors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this month that fewer than 1 in 5 middle and high schools in the U.S. began the school day at the recommended 8:30 start time or later, based on data from the 2011-2012 school year.

My nieces and nephew who attend an elementary school in Palatine have started school before 8 a.m. since first grade. By the time they reach high school, they’ll be in class for the first bell at 7:30 a.m.

When school starts next month at Melody Elementary School in West Garfield Park, kids will be in their classrooms at 7:45 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. The Chicago Public Schools financial mess contributed to the change at Melody and dozens of other schools. In many districts, availability of buses dictates when the first bell rings.

Maybe we don’t see the effects on a daily basis, but over time we’re hurting kids. Aside from grumpiness, drowsiness and a general blah feeling, the CDC says that insufficient sleep by high school kids is tied to being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, using drugs and doing poorly in school.

I wanted to talk more about this with Shorter, to find out what this highly successful person who influenced me had to say, but attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. The agent who handles his public appearances refused to put me in touch with Shorter because I wouldn’t plug the agency in this space.

But I’m reiterating what Shorter said decades ago: When you go to college, get some sleep.

It’s a shame you have to wait until then.


Follow Marlen Garcia on Twitter: @MarlenGarcia777

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