My eyes burned. I could hardly recall any information that I had spent all night memorizing. I knew the clock was ticking, but I couldn't force myself to focus. My lack of sleep had finally caught up to me. It was the last day of my first college exam week, and my mind and body had hit the wall. No amount of coffee or Red Bull could pull me out of the zombie state I had entered. Leading up to my final exam, I had pulled night after night of study sessions until 2 a.m., took brief naps, then woke up for 8 a.m. exams. Sleep deprivation was affecting my ability to perform, and all of the hard work and studying I had prioritized over sleeping was now worthless.
What is it about the college experience that fuels this burnout culture where it's normal, sometimes even celebrated, to forego sleep? You would never willingly go 24 hours without eating or drinking water - other vital necessities to your daily routine. So why is it acceptable to sacrifice sleep in order to make room for other priorities in your life?
"There is so much happening on college campuses, both academically and socially, that sleep and rest are very low on most students' lists of priorities."
College students have adapted to this sleep deprivation culture by surrounding themselves with stimulants. At the University of Southern California, there is a 24-hour Starbucks literately attached to the freshman dorms that never lacks a line, no matter the time of day. Leavey Library, USC's 24-hour study hub, has been nicknamed "Club Leavey" and "Hotel Leavey" because students often camp out there until the wee hours of the morning. Then, after making it through this sleep-deprived week of midterms, many students choose to "take a break" from academics by rallying for the next party instead of sleeping to recover from the week of all-nighters they just pulled studying.
There is so much happening on college campuses, both academically and socially, that sleep and rest are very low on most students' lists of priorities. As a freshman, I just thought that sleep deprivation was simply one of the aspects of college culture that I would be forced to adjust to.
In trying to figure all this out, I discovered that one big factor fueling my sleep deprivation was a newly developed FOMO, or "fear of missing out." FOMO led to a constant addiction to my cell phone, to the point that I even had it by my pillow when I went to sleep. I felt I always had to be doing something, whether that was studying, showing my face at a party or working out. It was clear to me that the online social media environment was exacerbating the college sleep deprivation epidemic because students never really took time away from it all. When the race is online to market your best life, this social stress can discourage students from taking any break at all, including sleeping.
"FOMO led to a constant addiction to my cell phone, to the point that I even had it by my pillow when I went to sleep."
As first semester rolled on, I found that not a day went by when I wasn't tired. I was overly stressed, unable to concentrate while studying, and often had to fight not to fall asleep in classes. Ultimately, my body couldn't handle this constant cycle of stimulation, and I realized I wouldn't be able to sustain it all much longer without more sleep.
I discovered that setting a personal bedtime forced me to cap my day. When I was younger, and my mom used to tell me at 10:00 p.m. it was time for bed, I cried. I dreaded putting an end to the day. Many college students would now think that an early bedtime would be a privilege, a gift that is too good to be true. While a 10:00 p.m. bedtime is pretty unrealistic for a college student, having a personal bedtime goal has helped me better plan my days and nights, and forced me to allot a certain amount of time for sleep.
"Everyone has that one friend who can consistently function on 5 hours of sleep every night without a problem. I am not that friend."
Granted, people are wired differently. Everyone has that one friend who can consistently function on 5 hours of sleep every night without a problem. I am not that friend. Of course, I can go a few nights here and there on little sleep, as most college students have learned to do. However, personally, I know that I am wildly unproductive and my day is a waste when I'm suffering from a lack of sleep. To me, sacrificing sleep is just not worth it.
And to my USC peers - if you want to engage in the discussion surrounding the importance of sleep across college campuses, check out the Huffington Post's #SleepRevolution College Tour. For years, Arianna Huffington has been speaking out about the importance of sleep and the dangers of sleep deprivation. Arianna will talk about her forthcoming book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time, at USC on April 13, at 7 pm in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center.
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 email@example.com. 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.