November 4, 2010

Sleep Walking Up Libe

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Many people’s eyes widen in disbelief, often followed by a “How do you do it?” when I explain that I sleep an average of eight hours a night. Yes, I do. And this is particularly salient for me this week because I haven’t been getting enough sleep.

After about six days of sleep deprivation, where instead of midnight I’m going to bed around 3 a.m. (I wake up at 8), my zombie-like behaviors seem to emerge at strange hours of the day; coffee is becoming a sort of ironic joke; my papers and presentations seem to be unwilling to write themselves — which makes me sad considering how many of them are due next week. Alas, there’s always Sunday, and as everyone keeps telling me, sleep is overrated.

The thing is, it’s not. Blame James Mass’ lecture during Orientation Week freshman year (because, sorry, I am really not willing to spend an entire semester taking his class, especially if he takes attendance!). I started establishing sleep schedules a long time ago. And the surprising thing is, if you do it well you stop needing things like alarm clocks. I recall my time at summer camp in Quebec, where I could wake up at exactly 7:57 a.m. every day, exactly three minutes before the alarm clock rang, as if my body thought that I would be better off without hearing an alarm. I think this only happens when you’re not sleep deprived, though; it has been a long time since I beat my alarm to wake up.

A neurologist — a friend of my mother’s — once told me that the most restorative sleep happens between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., or exactly the prime time to be awake in college. (Brilliant. Was it a “We don’t want you going out” tactic, I wonder?). In the sleep course I’m taking this semester, there was something mentioned about 11 a.m. being the prime time for dreaming (yay for those who can actually pull off sleeping until then). But I digress. The point is, given our highly variable lives, where our schedules include days off and classes that start at different times from day to day, waking up and going to bed at the same times is pretty difficult. The so-called “sleep hygiene” we’re supposed to uphold only seems to be important to those with serious insomnia problems or people with no cable or Hulu available in their bedrooms. Or people that, apparently, need to sleep a lot. Like me.

The people who ask me, “How do you do it?” continue by saying, “I so do not do that,” or “I don’t have time to sleep that much” or something of the sort. My usual response is along the lines of, “But how do you survive on that little sleep?” And yes, while it has been proven over and over that not everyone needs the same amount of sleep (I know this kid, who graduated last year, that could live off three hours a night, and did so for two straight years), it is also true that we (and this is not just us college students: “we” as in pretty much everyone) are usually very sleep deprived. A look at the amount of caffeinated beverages that have appeared in the market in the past five years is telling of the need we have to stay awake when our bodies are asking us not to. And yeah, one can argue it’s a chicken-and-egg problem, that maybe we are just taking too many of these things and that’s why we can’t sleep (yadayadayada). Which may also be true. But come on: I have seen more 5-Hour Energy ads this week than those telling me to pay off my credit bills (for less than what you owe!).

When I opened my Facebook this morning, I read my friend’s status: “When did sleep become a luxury?” I concur. Sitting down for lunch, sleeping or having three meals per day have become fantastical distant notions for me, at least during weekdays (on weekends, whenever there’s no Halloween and no need to go to 12 parties in one weekend, sometimes I can sleep past 10 a.m.). Do we sacrifice a lot of our comfort for the sake of learning what others think is important? Even though chances are we might or might not remember those things we lost so much sleep and healthy eating and hanging out with friends and calling-your-mother and good TV shows for?

We are starting the heaviest two weeks of the semester: this is the moment where professors start saying it’s okay to turn in assignments late, or that you should remember that one of your prelim scores can be dropped, or that office hours should be used more often, or that extra-credit options are available. As we finish choosing what will be our schedule for next semester, and the concerts and tournaments and conferences and second midterms start piling up, the anxiety kicks in, as does our fatigue. We are tired, fed up and screaming for Thanksgiving Break to come sooner. But, since we still have at least two weeks for that to happen, just try to hang in there. Whatever it is that is keeping you awake tonight, remember you’ll feel better in the morning. Just give yourself some love, and get some sleep already.

Florencia Ulloa is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at fulloa@cornellsun.com. Innocent Bystander appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Florencia Ulloa