Over my years of seminary and Jesuit formation, one thing has always been clear to me: the wand chooses the wizard. It is also clear to me that the decision to stay up late at night is also the decision not to pray in the morning. Whether I am making a sandwich at 11:17 pm, watching Epic Fail YouTube videos after midnight, or pondering my life goals at 2:46 am, sometimes I resent having to go to bed because there's so much I could be doing instead.
This blog entry is not about sleep preferences, for both early birds and night owls can be successful. It's not about the stuff you do on the internets, either. We all need the World Wide Web to settle all sort of ridiculous disagreements with friends and co-workers. I've written before about time management and procrastination, so I'm going to spare you all sorts of lists and tips. I write these lines to point out how sleep deprivation and its consequences get in our way of living life to the fullest.
The problem is not so much the bedtime we choose, but the many ways we delay greeting the sandman. There's always one more scroll. One more like on Facebook. Three more pictures to like on Instagram. One more episode on Netflix. One more text message to send. There's always something to do or to process. Bedtime is usually the time I'm filled with the sort of intensely strange emotions I blame on the moon (I don't mean weird or ridiculous, but rather insane). The moment we lay our heads on the pillow, a thousand possibilities knock at our door. When we choose to pursuit them, we also choose to surrender our energy and preparation for the next day. Life is lived more fully when we discern the right time to pursue the possibilities that make us more loving, passionate, and joyful.
The bad news is that time flies. The good news is that you're the pilot. In order to pursue the things that help you glorify God, you need a good night of sleep. Otherwise, you'll be running madly behind in your crowded schedule, and reacting to the surprises that dawn with a new day. Delaying your sleep means choosing to rush in the morning. It means snoozing the alarm a few times and then cussing at the darn thing because you only have 12 minutes to catch your bus. It ends up with you choosing between ironing your shirt or taking a shower - either way skipping breakfast. Lack of sleep leads to lack of time, patience, and energy as you prepare for your day. It means road or commuter rage because you are late. It translates into missed opportunities to be charitable with and joyful around those you meet in the morning.
When young adults ask me for tips to grow in holiness, I often give them three: drink lots of water, pray every day, and guard your sleep time (some seem confused about the water bit, but they nod in agreement when I remind them about Moses parting the Red Sea). Too many of these young women and men tell me how they don't sleep enough and go through their days slow and without focus - much like zombies. These 'walking dead' crave the creativity, energy, and concentration that comes with a good night of sleep. I urge them to guard their sleep from the trolls that crave their attention: cellphones, midnight snacks, problems, and good books.
There is a season for everything (although there should be no season to play with glitter - it gets stuck everywhere - please don't play with glitter). It probably is not a good idea to want to pursue new initiatives when it's time for bed. There is time for texts, ice cream, and good reads, but not when we are getting ready to travel to Never Never Land. Working, living, praying, dancing, talking, kissing, serving, singing, laughing, and learning won't happen or won't get done well if we don't recharge our batteries at night.
We all need to guard our sleep - to slay the things that can turn us into zombies (by the way, I think I'd make an awful zombie; I mean, I'd be a handsome but not very industrious zombie). Something that helps me guard my sleep is to make my last hour before bed more contemplative and less active. That could mean many things for you. You could schedule your TV time to make sure you are not binging on episodes of your favourite show before sleep. If I am still trying to figure out how Jack Bauer is going to save the world at 10:47 pm, I am probably not going to pray in the morning. You can also disconnect from all technology at 09:30 pm. I have realized that, if I keep my computer on after 09:33 pm, my bedtime is going to be very late. The later I turn off my computer or put my cellphone away, the later I’m going to bed and the less sleep I'll get.
As you can see, habits can make a difference in the quality of your rest and the way you greet the next day. On the path toward love, passion, and joy, there are no detours, VIP updates, or Get Out of Jail Free cards. There are no wands, charms, potions, or spells that will fill you with creativity, energy, and focus. You will need your sleep and you will have to guard it from the many things that knock at your door late at night. God desires you to live life to the fullest. He invites you to pursue the things that make you both joyful and holy, for they are not mutually exclusive. In order to do so, you will have to make tough decisions to guard your sleep (no playing with glitter!). You'll have to ignore the trolls that crave your attention and to slay the things that want to turn you into a walking dead.