Last one asleep and first one awake

How lack of sleep has come to dictate the lives of college students

My head pulsates and my eyes feel heavy from yet another late night in the academic buildings. It’s 3 a.m. and the living room is dark, illuminated only by the soft glow of the slowly, pulsating party lights strung up around the ceiling. I quietly enter my room and fall onto the bed, trying to avoid waking the roommate. Lifting my phone up one last time, I set multiple alarms, all ready to force me awake in just a few hours. The blue light radiates over my face and strains my tired eyes. I pass out, dreading the wake-up call which signals the start of another long day. When the next day breaks I find myself nodding off 10 minutes into class, eyes bloodshot and baggy.

I am not an insomniac, or a workaholic, or even a psychopath; I’m just another college student. Lack of sleep has come to dominate my life since first semester freshman year. On a typical night I find myself getting anywhere between 5 and 6 hours of sleep, but that number can shift depending on the week. Unfortunately, the shift is most often a decrease in total sleep time. Going to bed anytime before 12 a.m. now seems like a near impossible feat. I was once proud of my ability to function on less than adequate sleep and still be a high achiever in the classroom and an active participant in all extracurricular activities. But, the pride quickly wore off as a desire for sleep took its place. While it may be true that I am a night owl by nature, even the owl needs sleep to function. 

As I struggle to balance four classes, six clubs, a work-study, a workout routine, and the pursuit of passions outside of academics, moderation seems near impossible. Trying to piece together all of these things into a cohesive college experience, has left sleep on the cutting room floor.

Lack of moderation in the life of an American student is not breaking news. From drinking, to smoking, to school; the pervasive overload of substances and schoolwork has come to define the modern college student. But, the impact of this lifestyle remains detrimental. A survey conducted by the American College Health Association reveals that students rank sleep problems second only to stress in factors that negatively impact academic performance.        

Sleep deprivation can lead to much more immediate health effects:

  • Trouble focusing and staying alert
  • Increased stress reactivity
  • Weakened immune system

But, who is to blame for this lack of sleep; what factors should we be looking at to try and resolve this issue? I can only speak for myself here, but school work seems to be the heaviest and most consistent burden on my physical and mental health. To the point of pure frustration when professors seem to think that their class is the only one I am taking; as if the workload of three other classes is nonexistent in their mind. That notion accompanied by the hypocrisy of the professors who love to preach the importance of finding time for myself and my other passions outside of the classroom. I appreciate your consideration for my mental health, but it does me no good when I find myself up at 2 a.m. banging my head against the wall trying to finish your assignment before tomorrow’s class. But, my frustration with the way certain professors operate and my dissatisfaction with the methods of our education system can only go so far. I realize that there is little I can do to change either, so instead I must make changes in my own life in order to compensate. 

As I reflect on my own sleep habits it is clear that they are unsustainable. While I have yet to experience any drastic consequences for my lack of sleep, I am beginning to understand my own body and how it reacts to my inadequate sleep pattern. As a result, I am slowly chipping away at improving the amount of sleep I get each night in order to avoid the mental and physical toll which seems inevitable if I continue in my ways. For many college students, including myself, this mental and physical tug-of-war between the desire to do well in the classroom, the need to pursue those passions outside of school and the necessity for an adequate amount of sleep can feel overwhelming at times. 

I will try to leave you with one piece of advice that I have learned to use in my own life to better manage my sleep. Sacrifices have to be made, they don’t have to be huge sacrifices, but they have to be made. When I say sacrifices I don’t mean leaving a club completely, or giving up a passion of yours, or skipping a big assignment to get enough sleep. Small things like missing a club meeting, a practice, or a rehearsal to work on a school assignment. These little sacrifices allow for proper sleep which will pay off in the long run. But, the same goes for the other side of the equation. When you start to feel your sanity slipping, lack of sleep will only make it worse. It is okay to sacrifice smaller assignments to give yourself time to pursue your passions. Give yourself time to do the things that clear your head. You have to make the time to do the things that motivate you beyond the grade you recieve when you turn it in. I’m saying this while I still have a year and a half left, so take it with a grain of salt, but when done right you can have that diploma without losing your mind in the process.