When freshmen arrive on college campuses in the fall, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, they usually do two things to assert their newfound independence: drink a lot of alcohol and stay up late. And who can blame them? As a college freshman myself, I can personally attest to more than my fair share of sleepless nights. Without parents to order us to bed on time, we will (and have) run amok. But after spending time with my mother over the holidays, I realized the wastefulness of this cavalier attitude toward sleep. Many people, my mother included, would give anything to have a full night's sleep. College students are squandering this precious resource, with every cost to themselves.
For as long as I can remember, my mother has been tired. She works a full eight-hour shift before many people even wake up in the morning. She goes to sleep at 8 p.m. and wakes up at midnight, leaving for the office around 1 a.m. After her full day of work, she usually fights to squeeze in a nap between errands and exercise. Nap or no nap, she's back at it at 5 p.m., cooking dinner and getting work done. She makes her lunch for the next day (to be eaten at six in the morning) and heads back to sleep. And so this goes on, day in and day out - my mother often operating on four hours of sleep or less.
Watching this routine as a child gave me a healthy appreciation for sleep. Mom's nap time was my nap time, and "staying up late" meant going to bed at 10:30 p.m. But by the time I reached high school, I realized that my experience with sleep differed greatly from that of my peers. While I had always had a firm schedule for when to finish my homework and be in bed, most of my friends didn't. They would come to school exhausted every day from staying up until 3 a.m. doing homework.
This pattern carried on into my experiences here at Wesleyan, where I'm starting the second semester of my freshman year. I've found that in college, the later you stay up studying, the smarter you seem to everyone else around you. And without a firm homework schedule, procrastination escalates to the nth degree. When I mentioned to one of my friends that I would be writing this blog about sleep schedules, she replied "what sleep schedule?"
It's a real shame that college students are wasting the best resource they have available to them: a good night's sleep. As someone who has witnessed firsthand the daily life of someone who doesn't get enough sleep, I feel like the sleep culture on college campuses is extremely toxic. Here we are, young people with all the opportunities to get enough sleep before we're thrust into the "real world," and yet all we seem to do is brag and/or complain about how little sleep we got the night before. Let's change this unhealthy attitude. Grab a blanket and hunker down for eight hours of glorious sleep. You never know when those precious Z's will be stolen from you, so take advantage while you can!
This post is part of our series on sleep culture on college campuses. To join the conversation and share your own story, please email our Director of College Outreach Abby Williams directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can find out here if the #SleepRevolution College Tour will be visiting your campus, and learn how you can get involved. If your college is not one of the colleges already on our tour and you want it to be, please get in touch with Abby.