My Psychology 101 professor paced back and forth, scanning the room with his eyes. He asked, "How many of you actually get eight hours of sleep a night?" Immediately, I heard snickers. I timidly raised my hand and looked around, not surprised when I saw only two or three others joining me. I have always been good at getting enough sleep. I welcomed the siesta when I studied abroad in Spain with open arms, caffeine affects my body too much, and jet lag is still a problem even though I regularly fly coast to coast for college.
When I got to college, the noise outside of my dorm room at 3 a.m. was a literal and figurative wake-up call. When you are asleep, things are happening without you. I started to compare myself to others and worry that people would think that I was less adventurous, fun or exciting because I got a good night's sleep. I feared that I was missing out on the "classic college experience" and wasn't being the crazy college student that I was supposed to be. Looking toward the future, I even feared that my sleep habits would be a weakness in the professional world. One day I finally caught myself and thought: "Why am I putting myself down because of a healthy habit?" I don't criticize myself when I go to the gym or choose healthy snacks.
In our industrious American culture, sleep is generally not glorified. Health fads revolve around hot bodies and crazy diets. None of the personas of the American dream--the multitasking mom, the hardworking professional, the young up-and-comer--are imagined as getting enough rest every night. One who sleeps can often be thought of as a boring, lazy, unproductive bum who neither wins awards nor attracts social attention.
In our always-achieving environment, one phrase echoes: "You can sleep when you're dead."
In order to challenge this view, the Changing Carolina Peer Leaders at the University of South Carolina held a De-Stress Fest before finals week where we passed out herbal tea, de-stress tips, adult coloring pages and copies of #TheSleepRevolution. We want college students to know that adequate sleep is vital to success. The goal isn't to nag students to prevent them from going to parties that are "past their bedtimes" or encourage laziness or oversleeping. Instead, we hope that students become more aware of their sleep hygiene and are able to integrate it into their daily lives as they may with exercise routines and mindful eating. At USC, we try to look at the whole person and realize our vision for a Healthy Carolina, and sleep is a big part of that.
In my experience, sleep has allowed me to let go of negative emotions and more quickly recall test material, which means less wasted time tiredly staring at a textbook. We want the image of a productive, successful individual in society to not conflict with the idea of giving our bodies and brains rest, as this rest gives us the energy to work toward our greatest successes.
Get some shut-eye America because sleep is the new health craze.