Health: Listen here, son, just get some sleep

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The Independent Culture
DEAR BILL,

I have only three words to say to you and I am sure you know what they are. Yes, you guessed it - get more sleep. OK, make that four words: please get more sleep.

Yesterday marked the start of your last term at school and you know and I know that what happens between now and the end of June... well, it matters.

People always say that today is the first day of the rest of your life. I know it's a cliche, but for teenagers like you, who are about to sit A-levels in a few weeks' time, it has a special resonance. As we enter the final weeks can we just agree a few ground rules to make sure you hit that finishing-tape at full speed?

You know that chronic sleep deprivation is now a recognised medical problem among teenagers. You don't? That just proves my point. I've told you often enough but you have been too zonked to register it.

It is a simple biological fact that we need less sleep as we grow older. As a teenager, you may feel ancient when you prop your eyes open in the mornings, but you are not yet old. And you are still growing, outwards if not upwards, which takes energy. You cannot expect to go clubbing all night and flirt intelligently with Tess of the d'Urbervilles by day.

You know the rules: in bed by 11 pm at the latest on schooldays, in return for which you get a late pass on Fridays and Saturdays. These last few weeks are going to be tough - there is no way round that - but that doesn't mean that you are not allowed any fun at all.

I know that sometimes when you look at your books and your piles of notes, you think about the weeks ahead and you feel overwhelmed. Nobody ever said that revising for exams was easy. You know how I always quote the Alcoholics Anonymous line: one day at a time.

Break the work up into bite-size chunks, then settle down and take it piece by piece. That way it will seem more manageable. When you are climbing a mountain, never look up or down, just concentrate on the next step.

Umm - on the subject of fun, could we just have another word about booze and drugs? Drinking and revising don't mix, so could we please limit the former for these next few weeks?

You know how I have always urged openness about drugs, since ignorance kills as often as the drugs themselves. But there were some rather disturbing brain scans of long-term ecstasy users published in The Lancet a few months ago. They were the first direct evidence that there is a price to pay for ecstasy use. I would rather you didn't sit down to your exams next month with fried brains.

I don't mind fry-ups - or gigantic fish finger, bacon and cheese sandwiches followed by midnight kebabs. Just so long as you are not going hungry. Do eat fruit; its vitamins help your heart and your head. And do stretch those lanky legs a bit - not just to the pub and back, but over the park occasionally. Exercise is a great cure for depression, mental fatigue and world-weariness - and it oxygenates the brain cells, too.

Of course, I want you to work. I want you to succeed, too. I don't mind how well you do but you do have to do your best - that will be enough for me. However, I don't want you to worry. That is destructive, pernicious and undermining. You do the work and I'll do the worrying. And good luck, old son.

LOVE, DAD

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