Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Hours of Sleep and Hours of Study
By Samuel Osgood (18121880)
[Born in Charlestown, Mass., 1812. Died in New York, N. Y., 1880. Student Life. 1861.]
THE MOST obvious polar diversity is that which contrasts our sleeping with our waking hours, and almost repeats the images of death and life. How long we ought to sleep I do not undertake to say with positive certainty, so widely do different persons vary, and so much do many people err from the truth by counting as sleep only their hours of being in bed, whilst they never seem to be fully awake even at noon-day, and others who lounge half the time in bed are rarely found asleep. If I were to try to state the true rule for sleep, according to the best experience and observation, it would be eight hours, and surely never less than seven. A student needs, probably, more sleep than a laboring man, alike because his brain is more used (and the brain suffers more than the muscles from over-action), and because, moreover, the student is so apt to carry the thoughtfulness of study to his pillow as to find it hard to drop into slumber at once, as the tired workman generally does. I advise you to be very careful to secure regular and sufficient sleep; and in most cases when you are tempted by peculiar anxiety to sit up very late, and win study at the cost of an excited brain, it is better to think more of keeping the instrument sound than of forcing the work. I have suffered sometimes by continual late study, and have kept at my pen till morning. Now I prefer a healthy brain to an elaborate manuscript, and am surer of success in such emergencies by speaking extempore from a clear and cool head, than by reading a discourse that has been written by the midnight lamp. I do not believe in the midnight lamp at all, and advise you to be on your pillow always at least an hour before that witching time. In summer it is well for a student to go to bed at ten and rise at six, or half an hour before, and in winter he may retire and rise an hour later. As to any considerable study before breakfast, I do not recommend it, and am inclined to think as poorly of morning candle-light as of the midnight lamp. I tried once to steal time for translating a work from the German by early morning study, and the symptoms of a nervous fever that appeared in the course of a few weeks led me never to repeat the experiment.
As to hours of study, they should never exceed those now made the limit of manual laborten hoursand I believe that six hours of close application will in the long run accomplish more good work than twelve hours. If a youth actually studies six hours, and adds to this the time spent in going to and from recitation and in waiting for others to recite, he will find very little of the working part of the day left. If we add to six hours of actual work over books the time usually given by an earnest student to thought, and reading, and instructive conversation, it will be found that twelve out of the twenty-four hours are generally given to the culture of the mind. Stating my views in another way, I can say that there is wisdom in dividing the day into three parts of eight hours eachone part for sleep; one for such exertion of the mind as may be called study, whether learning lessons or tasking the thoughts by solid reading or careful meditation; one part for recreation, or for all that refreshes soul and body by food, exercise, society, and all such intellectual occupations as belong more to the play rather than to the work of the mind. I do not, of course, mean to say that these three parts should be separated by a rigid line, and that recreation and study should occupy each eight consecutive hours. It is best for one not to give more than two consecutive hours to one object; and he is wise who goes from one study to another, or intersperses study with exercise or conversation, so as to secure constant freshness and life. The Jesuits, who are marvellously shrewd in their way, forbid their pupils from studying more than two hours without intermission; and Voltaire, who so hated the Jesuits, copied their sagacity by keeping sometimes four desks in his library, with an unfinished work on each, and going, as he was moved, from one to the other, as poetry, history, criticism, or philosophy invited him. You will do well to study a judicious alternation in the division of your time and studies, being especially careful to sweeten hard and repulsive branches by such as are more pleasant, and in every way to change the posture of your mind, so as to refresh and relieve the more weary faculties.