Pride fueled my strut out of Morrill 111. With a finished problem set in hand and bags under my eyes, I had just pulled off my first homework all-nighter. I celebrated the occasion with a hike down the Slope and a West campus breakfast. After all, while my fellow classmates slept, I worked. Impressed and gratified for completing this seemingly underground Cornellian rite of passage, I would heroically describe my feat barely fighting back a smile — only to resign to collapsing eyelids later that morning.
So much of the stereotypical American college experience, as it’s packaged in pop culture and the memories of nostalgic alumni, seems to be wrapped up in anticipation — and sometimes the romanticization — of dysfunction. Even in the age of hyper-attention to self-care, college remains a bubble in which it’s normal, even commendable, to do things like pull successive all-nighters in the name of work or push passions onto the back burner because they don’t fit our notions of productivity. Staying up all night to study is presented as evidence of a strong work ethic, rather than an unhealthy last resort. At Harvard, students in the class of 2022 were even asked to complete an online “Sleep 101” course, designed to help them develop healthy sleep habits in an environment as “competitive and busy” as college. It is particularly within the context of any work hard, play hard environment, where opposite and sometimes incompatible extremes regarding school and going out are expected to exist simultaneously, that a lot of unsustainable behavior is necessitated.
Today I have a challenge for you. A simple one, yes, and maybe a pointless one too, but a challenge. For no immediate reason, try and stay up for as long as you possibly can. Most people, in my experience, do not want to do this. I like asking casual acquaintances how long they’ve ever stayed awake at a time, and after people tell me, they almost always say something like, “Ugh, it was awful.