Find Your Inner Sleeping Beauty

Picture this: you’re in college, and it’s finals week. You’ve got a stack of assignments and papers you need to write, simply attending class has taken away valuable work hours of your day. It’s now 10 PM, crawling towards 11 PM, and you still have work to do. You crack open a Red Bull, drink some water, take a deep breath, and get back to work. Eyes dry and tired, you push on because that 5-page paper analyzing the transition of African Americans from slavery to emancipation is due and you’re hoping to give it a quick edit the next day right before you print it for class, and you know your professor is unforgiving with deadlines. It’s 3 AM when you finally go to bed.


The next day, you’ve got a 20 ounce coffee in hand and you’re cracking jokes about how late you were up, how you’re running on two, maybe three hours of sleep. It’s a college campus, so you’re met with a chorus of the same response: same.

Throughout high school, jokes about sleep deprivation made up at least a third of the school-related humor I partook in. Not a day went by without caffeine. I was going to bed around 11PM or midnight, waking up at a whopping 5:30 in the morning to get to school on time. Four years of that and I, today, can’t tell you how I managed to do it. What I find more curious (and concerning), though, is how normalized that is, how casually that is joked about. In the same way that the incredibly stressful college experience--hell, American education experience--sometimes tends to excuse mental illness as “part of the grind”, we tend to brush off not sleeping. When did sleep become optional? When did we decide that choosing to sleep instead of finishing that assignment was a sign of weakness?


News flash! Or at least a friendly reminder: sleep is not optional. We are humans, yes, but we are also animals. Despite our emotional, social, and intellectual complexity, we are still an organism that requires food, water, sleep, and sunshine. I would argue that, all things considered, we are the worst at making sure we get enough sleep. Our inadequacy at taking care of ourselves in this respect has consequences beyond feeling groggy the next day, or feeling a little slow; it can kill you.


The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine released the following study, analyzing the effects of reduced sleep. Their study found that:

"Restricted sleep time—particularly when chronic can cause significant and cumulative neurobehavioral deficits and physiological changes, some of which may account for the epidemiological findings that reduced sleep durations are associated with obesity, cardiovascular morbidity, traffic accidents and death. Recent careful controlled experiments in healthy adults reveal that as sleep was repeatedly restricted to less than 7 h per night, significant daytime cognitive dysfunction (i.e., state instability, reduced vigilant attention and working memory) accumulated… Research also demonstrates that experimentally induced chronic sleep restriction results in several adverse physiologic consequences, including reduced glucose tolerance, increased blood pressure, and increased inflammatory markers in healthy adults. Consistent with these reports are epidemiologic studies that find self-reported short sleep duration is associated with obesity, heart disease, and mortality. Thus, current research findings on the effects of sleep restriction on neurobehavioral and physiological functioning suggest that adequate sleep duration (7-8 hours per night) is vital."


It’s a lot of text, I realize. But look at what it says! Reduced cognitive function, reduced memory abilities, increased blood pressure, heart disease, mortality. A lack of sleep can kill you. Study, after study, after study has been done, all pointing to the same thing that should be seen as common sense: we need sleep. Aside from the fact that sleeping is amazing, it’s important.  


There is this depiction of the elderly that says at age 80, I will likely be using a walker, have arthritis in all my joints, and spend most of my days seated. But that’s not a promise. Aging does not have to mean that we can no longer live life how we want to; that only happens when we become passive bystanders to our own health. If, in your youth, you spend most of your time eating minimally nutritious food, sitting for most of the time, practicing poor basic hygiene, then yeah, that may be what your future holds for you. But I plan on getting into some wild shenanigans when I’m in my 80s. I want to be skiing, going camping, partying it up with my sisters to what will then be considered “the oldies”. That can be my future IF I think long term and recognize my body for what it is: an animal, an organism that has basic requirements for proper functioning.


My point is, you do not need to suffer excessively in the name of social norms. College is depicted as a time of high stress, anxiety, developing depression, and basically not taking care of yourself. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take a little initiative and make changes. There’s nothing stopping you from brushing your teeth when you wake up and before you go to bed, except you. There’s nothing stopping you from routinely stopping homework at 8 PM to decompress before going to bed at a reasonable hour, except you (and maybe some homework). There’s nothing making you eat chips and high calorie, low nutritional-value foods except you. Take responsibility for this entity you inhabit. You get one body. We aren’t that advanced yet where you can just hop into a new meat suit. This is the one you get, so take care of it.


And if nothing else, get some goddamn rest.