Q: I’m leading a youth retreat and I’m not sure whether I should be expecting to get any sleep or not. Is that a normal part of the retreat?
A: I know that this answer is going to strike some of you as a farcically ironic or a completely ‘duh’ kind of post – with one side thinking ‘Who has time to sleep!?’ and the other saying ‘Of course you need a good night’s rest to be at your best!’
Sleep is CRUCIAL on a youth retreat. Trust me.
My first retreat experience with my youth where I was solely in charge of their growth, development and well being was comedic at best and terrible judgement at worst (it was actually both!). The week was co-ed with boys rooms at one end of the hall, girls rooms at the other end and me and the other leaders’ rooms in the middle.
You name it I was worried about it. Sneaking out. Pranks. Youth ending up in the English Channel. Sex. Drugs. Rock ‘n’ Roll (OK, maybe not that but you get the gist).
I’m pretty sure the young people at that youth retreat thought I didn’t sleep – ever. Like I was some kind of zombie-vampire hybrid that didn’t require sleep. Some of my actions were, in their basic idea, reasonable. Some were…… well, let’s call a spade a spade: Crazy.
I went to bed after the youth did. I don’t just mean ‘bed’ – I mean ‘asleep’. I’d wait in the hallway for 1-2 hours to be certain they were all asleep and if they came out for any reason they’d see me sitting there reading and it would remind them that I. Was. Watching. Everything.
I was awake whenever they went to the bathroom no matter what time, as I ‘slept’ with my door open. I’m a light sleeper when I’m anxious and I have to have it completely dark as a general rule. When someone would enter the hallway at this retreat center, the hall light would pop on.
So every time some poor sleepy teen would stumble down the hall there was a double shock waiting: the light would pop on and I would pop up in bed and whisper ‘Where are you going?’ They’d jump and mumble ‘loo’ and I’d sit there upright until they stumbled back to bed.
I was awake when they woke up. I’d be up and ready before they woke up – not just dressed, but ready. Then, I’d wake them up and wait patiently for everyone to get up and out of bed, dressed and we’d all start our day together.
Needless to say, by Day 2 I was exhausted. Day 3 I was getting a little loopy and by the end of the youth retreat I was resembling in all aspects that zombie-vampire hybrid we discussed earlier. Thankfully, the adrenaline of the experience kept me going and I was for the most part – thankfully – kind and patient with the youth despite being exhausted. But I didn’t need to be this way.
A Different Way
I learned over the next few retreats that I could get some sleep. It’s a youth retreat, so there’ll always be less sleep than normal, but 4-6 hours of undisturbed sleep is infinitely better than waking up every 20-40 minute when one of the 10 youth you brought with you has to go to the bathroom. And then there’s that awkward time you ask the other leader where they’re going – d’oh!
Here are the top 3 reasons why sleep is important on a retreat or any other youth overnight activity (well, except lock-ins – everyone knows that no one sleeps there!):
1. You’ll get replenished after a mentally taxing day
Retreats are great fun but they require you to be ‘on’ all day. You’re responsible for youth safety, volunteer coordination, talks, small groups, activities and meals.
Sleep is essential for making sure you’re ready to make the best decisions each day, especially if your retreat were to experience an unforeseen emergency.
2. You’ll be more patient
Youth work can be frustrating. Youth can be obstinate, out of control, emotional and silly. You need as much patience as you can draw from each and every time you interact with your teens.
Getting good sleep is key to being able to tap into your more calm and patient self when teens are refusing to get up, go to bed, stay on task, cuddling with each other, etc.
3. You’ll be more fun
Your youth want you to be involved with them. They want you to dangle off ropes, climb mountains, swim, canoe and race them around the retreat center.
You’ll be much more fun and up for the extreme adventures of your retreat if you’re getting as much sleep as possible and not physically exhausted.
Question: What tips do you have for maximizing sleep on a youth retreat? Let us know in the comments below.
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