Craig Frazier/New York Times

November 29, 2021

When Did Sleep Go Out of Style?

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I love sleeping, not unlike most other people my age. It’s one of the few activities where I can just stop thinking and forget about all my troubles, and once I gently rest my head on a comfy pillow, swathed in soft blankets and bed sheets, I smile on the inside (and probably a bit on the outside, too). On an ideal day, I would have slept for ten hours the night prior — obviously, I don’t have many ideal days. As juvenile as it sounds, sometimes I wish I could spend a whole day sleeping — no work, no worries, only sleep.

And yet, it seems like everything in my life is actively trying to rob me of that wish: problem sets, research papers, exams, internship applications, social activities and leisure time all demand my undivided attention, and inevitably, my perfect sleep schedule gets quickly discarded before being utterly annihilated halfway through the semester. Other college students have been met with the same fate, pulling all-nighters powered by caffeine, showing up yawning and bleary-eyed to 8 a.m. lectures and making jokes with their friends about how sleep-deprived they are, which wouldn’t be funny if they weren’t so relatable. But this is just part of the college experience. Nothing to get too worked up about, right?

If only it were limited to the “college experience.” Instead, the woes of the sleep-deprived extend far into adulthood, plaguing dispassionate office workers and caffeinated corporate drones alike. Essential workers who cover night shifts overhaul their entire sleep schedule in order to make ends meet as on-call doctors barely sleep a wink, rushing around the hospital while caring for their patients; not helping matters, overtime pay incentivizes people to overwork themselves for only a meager wage increase. No matter how much work someone puts into their job, there’s always more that can be done in the eyes of their superiors; so, they work as much as possible to please them lest they are deemed unmotivated, which leads to overly competitive, toxic work cultures and potentially death for the workers involved. Evidently, once you enter the realm of the corporate workforce, maintaining your health is no longer a concern so long as you can still produce results.

Let’s face it: sleep just isn’t cool anymore, nor is it valued by society. Instead of encouraging exhausted people to get a good night’s sleep, society’s go-to advice is to have an energy drink and push through the pain. So many people subscribe to this method of maintaining consciousness that it’s honestly kind of weird if you don’t. People also love to judge others for their sleeping habits — if you like to stay up late, you’re a fun, active person, but if you go to bed early, you’re basically a senior citizen; if you’re an early riser, you’re an ambitious go-getter, but if you like to sleep in, you’re irredeemably lazy and hopelessly unproductive. The necessary combination of late nights and early mornings in order to seem appealing means many people aren’t sleeping as well as they should. The real kicker comes with the popular — and really toxic — phrase “sleep is for the weak,” reinforcing the prevailing societal ideology that if you’re resting, you aren’t working hard enough; hard work leads to success, after all, so the longer you’re awake, the more work you can accomplish. Large businesses and corporations have their priorities set based on this philosophy — results are what matter most to them, and the health of their employees is just collateral damage. In the eyes of many, sleep is the enemy of progress. If sacrificing sleep means achieving success, then the ends justify the means, and if an all-nighter is what it takes to pull off that research paper, ace that final exam, or secure that critical business deal, then it must be worth it, right?

I mean, maybe? Maybe some things really are worth sacrificing a night’s worth of sleep to accomplish. The trouble comes when neglecting sleep for the sake of greater productivity becomes a routine habit. At that point, no amount of sugar or caffeine can save your weary brain, and although you may be producing a high quantity of work, that doesn’t necessarily indicate its quality. Doing as much work as possible for as long as possible sounds like a marvelous idea in theory, but in practice, how long you can work without tiring yourself out honestly depends. Some people are great at remaining focused for long periods of time, while others need periodic breaks to relax and avoid burnout, but no matter how determined you are to keep working at the expense of your sleep, your fatigue will eventually catch up with you. You’ll become irritable and forgetful, your critical thinking skills will decline and you may even put yourself at risk for a heart condition — that’s not worth an all-nighter.
If you’re one of the many students at this University who can regularly count the hours of sleep they got the previous night on one hand, I have news for you: that’s not healthy. You shouldn’t ever accept sleep deprivation as a normal part of college or a normal part of life, and you’re certainly not weak for getting enough rest. Just as you prioritize your assignments and your social lives, you should aim to prioritize an important part of your health as well. Set a consistent sleep schedule and take naps during the day if you need to — even 20 short minutes of rest can work wonders for your focus. By making these small lifestyle changes while still being a high achiever, you’ll prove to the world that sleep is still cool — and your body and mind will thank you for it.

Dylan McIntyre is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]