Snow is predicted for this weekend at camp. Not a lot, and it’ll melt within a day, but still we’re putting up Halloween decorations and carving pumpkins! It’s yet another reminder that at this point, summer is firmly behind us.
With this distance between what was a truly amazing summer at camp and today, I started thinking about some of the experiences we lived this summer, and how those experiences stick with us long after the summer ends.
One of the most impactful yet under-appreciated experiences of the summer is sleep. At MTC we turn lights out at 11pm and wake up at 8am. 9 hours. Every night. Which research tells us turns out to be the amount of that is the adequate amount of sleep for adolescents.
Sleep researchers didn’t know this when MTC was founded by the way. I’m not even sure sleep research was a thing in 1984. But from the outset, 9 hours seemed just about perfect. And it’s not just about the amount of sleep. It’s also about the times we go to bed and wake up at camp. Teenagers have a different circadian rhythm; this should be obvious to anyone who has been one or who knows teens. The fact that very few other camps allow their teenage campers 9 hours from 11pm-8am reflects the fact that few other camps deal just with adolescents; yet another truly unique benefit of being a teenage only summer camp.
Researchers are telling us now that getting the right amount of sleep every night is essential for good mental & emotional health, is critical for learning & memory, and is the foundation of physical health. Our campers have known this for years. They understand they feel happier and less anxious at camp, that they pick up new skills (and remember how to perform those new skills) so quickly at camp, that their energy levels are higher and even their skin tone is better.
Camp has also been immune to a couple of the more detrimental factors impacting adolescent sleep patterns in the real world. The most obvious issue is simple scheduling – there aren’t enough hours in the day to get school, homework, extra-curriculas, part time jobs, family time, social time, hobbies and 9 hours of sleep every night. At camp we get to build the schedule around sleep, versus building sleep into the rest of the schedule. We’re also able to escape the pervasive, sleep interfering glow of screens. TV is bad, computers are worse, smartphones and tablets are the worst. The light and the content interfere with the body’s finely choreographed shutdown sequence honed by evolution in a time before electricity.
Obviously none of this is news. Being under-slept is a signature aspect of modern life. Thankfully as more publicity is given, more of us are understanding that this is potentially an issue in our own lives. Camp plays an essential role. Firstly, we get a chance to have weeks of consecutive good night’s sleep. This is objectively healthy. More subtly, we get to learn what it’s like to be well slept; to understand what mood, energy level, ability to learn is all like. This is a part of the lived experience of a summer at camp.
The challenge now, then, is to decide how much we want to prioritize sleep in our non-camp lives. Is it just a summer thing? We would encourage all campers and staff to use the lived experience of camp to choose 9 hours, whenever possible. We’ve all experienced the benefits, we know the pay-off for leaving the iPhone turned off, for sticking to the routine. Campers who take the MTC Wellness class get more tips for good sleep hygiene. Let us know if you’d like a refresher, as we’re happy to email them.
Right, I’m off to bed. Sleep well.