After spending finals week buried in my "exam cocoon," there is nothing I look forward to more than lying in bed with a laptop on my chest, binge-watching Netflix for hours on end and seeing those all-too-familiar words flash on the screen: "Are you still watching Friends?" Every winter break, I revert to this much-needed state of relaxation by prioritizing the one thing my university deprives me of: sleep.
This is quite contrary to the school year. All too often, I see students around campus, eyes barely open, boasting casually to others about their third cup of coffee of the day. I've found myself looking like a zombie from The Walking Dead on some mornings.
At many universities, including my own, UC Berkeley, students operate in a competitive environment, always comparing exam scores and internship offers. But don't think our competitive nature is limited to the classroom. Oddly enough, it's almost like an achievement or bragging right to have gotten the least amount of sleep. It compounds upon the hyper-competitive collegiate environment and turns something detrimental to our health into another way we can surpass our peers. I overhear my classmates trying to one-up each other, confessing, "I got like, three hours of sleep last night." To which a common response is, "Oh yeah? Try no sleep. I pulled an all-nighter finishing this Computer Science project." (It definitely deserves a C+. ) This seemingly-backward comparison can be reversed, and I look forward to the day when we have conversations about how to prioritize our mental and physical health in everyday activities.
In a study conducted by the ACHA-NCHA II on the University of California, Berkeley campus in 2014, 44.6 percent of students reported feeling tired, dragged out, or sleepy in three to five days of the last week in which the study was conducted; 90 percent of students believed that sleepiness was a problem during daytime activities. Clearly, lack of sleep is prevalent in younger generations, which leads to a larger issue because it negatively affects students' mood, judgment, work performance, safety, and physical health.
Every 53 minutes, someone is killed from an alcohol-related car accident. Drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of above .08 percent are considered to be driving under the influence, bringing both themselves and those around them in danger. This is the level, determined by experts and past cases, that renders the driver incapable of operating a vehicle safely due to delayed cognitive and motor skills.
Similar to the effects of alcohol, missing an hour or two of sleep from the recommended amount is equivalent to consuming a couple of alcoholic drinks. Pulling an all-nighter gives you the same reaction time as those with a BAC of 0.1, qualifying for a DUI. Driving with impaired brain function is a serious issue on all counts. Society needs to pay heed to the negative and fatal effects of sleep deprivation.
This is especially relevant to our generation. According to the American Psychological Association, "younger adults are more likely to say they feel stressed by a lack of sleep (Millennials: 29 percent; Gen Xers: 23 percent) than Boomers (19 percent) and Matures (7 percent)." Additionally, according to another study conducted by APA, "Millennials and Gen Xers are also more likely to report feeling depressed because of stress."
According to the aforementioned ACHA-NCHA II study, in the past 12 months, 38.4 percent of students at Berkeley felt so depressed that it was difficult to function, 60.8 percent felt overwhelming anxiety, 8.9 percent seriously considered suicide, 3.1 percent attempted suicide, and 94.2 percent experienced an average, higher than average, or tremendous amount of stress.
When I see these alarming numbers, it's clear that something is fundamentally wrong. The consequences of unhealthy sleep habits are deeply affecting American youth. It's clear that tired, stressed out students need to maintain healthy sleep patterns and invest in their self-care.
Unfortunately, it is unrealistic to expect collegiates to suddenly reform sleep patterns given the strenuous amounts of work along with procrastination tools and campus culture present. This does not mean, however, that universities can't enact measures to encourage change. A study at NASA on military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34 percent and alertness by 100 percent. The benefits of napping are undeniable: It increases alertness, improves learning and working memory, leads to better health, reduces the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and much more. Even companies (Google, Salesforce, Soundcloud, etc.) have realized the potential of these nap spaces and have started implementing their own for employees in order to increase productivity in the workplace.
Recognizing my own passion for naps and taking these companies' establishments into mind, I considered different methods to improve the campus culture towards sleep and came up with REST Zones. REST Zones or Relaxation Enhancing Study and Tranquility Zones should be implemented nation-wide to help solve this problem that's often set aside. REST Zones provide students with a space of serenity to relax, meditate, nap, and take a break from the outside world. They can range from a comfortable bean bag to a nap pod. They should be widely available to students across campus for usage throughout the day in places such as libraries or the common area of the school.
In a survey conducted on the UC Berkeley campus in 2015, students voted relaxation space as the No. 1 wellness space they most desired to see on campus. I received an $80,000 grant from the university to open REST Zones, but the cost of each individual REST Zone can vary depending on the needs of the area. For example, in the Wurster Environmental Design Library, we have installed a mix of chairs (the Placentero Chairs and the Le Corbusier Lounge chair), amounting to roughly $3800. UC Berkeley will be opening four REST Zones across campus this year.
Sleep deprivation often leads to stress, but with these REST Zones, students will be able to gain back some of the sleep they missed, tangibly tackling one of the biggest epidemics plaguing us today. And although these REST Zones may only be a small step, it's a step in the right direction where universities utilize their resources to address and bring the mental health of students to the forefront of discussions.