To Sleep Or To Party? The College Conundrum

Group of friends dancing and having fun together
Group of friends dancing and having fun together

There are three goals that every college student-athlete strives to achieve: good grades, a successful sporting career, and a social life. Many coming-of-age movies, like the infamous Animal House and more recent Neighbors, depict crazy parties and drunk teenagers as the college norm. Yet where does sleep fit into this mix?

For many of my friends, their most full nights of sleep follow a night of partying. "When I stay in, I end up hanging around and talking until 4 a.m.," Hadley, 19, says. "But when I go out, things generally cool down after 1 a.m., so I get back [to my room] so early and just go to bed." For Hadley, who plans on studying Economics, a normal night's sleep involves going to bed around 1 or 2 a.m. Going out does not push back her bedtime. In fact, it makes it consistent: "[Partying] doesn't make [my bedtime] any later, but staying in does. I think, 'Oh, on weekdays I stay up until 1 or 2 a.m., so on weekends, since I don't have class, I can stay up even later.'"

"There are three goals that every college student-athlete strives to achieve: good grades, a successful sporting career, and a social life. "

Perhaps an even more interesting phenomenon, going out has become a sort of study break. Every Wednesday, Toads, a local New Haven nightclub, opens its doors only to Yale students. The weekly event, called "Woads," is one in which every student tries to partake; but what if you have too much homework due the next day? "If I really want to go, but also have a lot of work, " Hadley explains, "I go from about midnight to 1 a.m., when it's the most fun." Such a strategy allows Hadley to work until midnight, a point at which she reaches and "is tired anyway" and needs "a mental break." She goes to Woads, dances for an hour, then comes back; and it's only 1 a.m. "During busy weeks, I usually go to bed at 2 or 3 a.m., so I'm left with one to two more hours to do homework."

How does such a schedule affect one's sleep? "It honestly has no effect," Hadley discloses. She is going to stay up late doing homework and such a task makes her sleepy. Going to Woads for an hour wakes her up and actually allows her to be more productive once she returns to studying. After getting back in the groove of doing her homework, her body settles into a more sleepy state. "The bigger problem is that I'm not sleeping enough," Hadley clarifies. "But regardless if I go [to Woads], I'm not going to sleep enough."

"For student-athletes, balancing partying, homework, and sleep can be a struggle. "

Brooke, an 18-year-old prospective Economics major, also organizes her day around a night at Toads. "I get very stressed [on Wednesday] afternoons, when all the work is building up; but I always plan to go to Woads for the break." Ending class in the early afternoon, she tries to get all of her homework done before dinner and then "that's it." She gives herself the rest of the night off, to relax or go straight to partying. Yet, unlike Hadley's "Woads game," Brooke thinks this lifestyle negatively affects her sleep. "I have to wake up at 8 a.m. on Thursdays. I'm going to bed at 2 a.m. instead of at midnight. I'm losing sleep."

For student-athletes, balancing partying, homework, and sleep can be a struggle. "My performance this season was not affected at all by my partying," Hannah, a 19-year-old squash player and intended Psychology major, reveals to me. "I just should have gone out less and done more homework. Now I'm so behind and spend more time at night doing homework than I would have if I hadn't gone out. It's had an indirect effect." Hannah, however, prioritizes sleep over anything else. This morning, having stayed up late to work on a paper, she decided to sleep in and move her workout to the afternoon in order to maximize her hours in bed. Yet, like Hadley and Brooke, Hannah admits that going out is detrimental to her total sleep time. "I only get about 5 hours of sleep when I go out, because I go to bed at 3 or 4 a.m. On weekdays, I usually go to bed at midnight."

Yet, despite the negative sleep affects of going out, there is a prevalent student-athlete party culture on college campuses. "It's overrated," Hannah sighs. "Athletes try to party a lot because they think it's something they should do, especially male athletes. Female athletes just get caught up in it." Some sports teams even acknowledge this fact and try to work against it, by instituting strict "dry seasons" or "forty-eight hour rules" to keep their players from partying. Whether those strategies are successful or not depends on the harshness of the consequences for breaking those rules.

So, being a student-athlete or not, take a second to think the next time you decide to party. Are you willing to suffer the next-day sleeplessness of a night-out on the town?