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Sleeping too much, too little or just right?


When my brother was in high school, I remember attending a college info session where a senior talked about how he learned to embrace the non-academic aspects of college. The only part I remember now is him talking about his sleep schedule. For his first few years, he went to sleep at 10 p.m. every night and missed out on a variety of social experiences as a result. But when he became an upperclassman, began sleeping later and started to embrace spontaneity, he was able to embrace college life more wholeheartedly. At that point in my life (when I was in elementary school), I thought I was an insomniac because I couldn’t fall asleep by 9:30 p.m. every night. The idea that one could be missing out because he or she was getting a healthy amount of sleep boggled me. 

Originally, I wanted to make a plea for students to get more sleep, based on the statistic that one-third of Americans are sleep deprived. According to a recent survey, 21.5 percent of Duke students reported sleep deprivation as a factor affecting academic performance. More than one in four high school students reported falling asleep in class at least once a week.  A recent Chronicle article focusing on “the freshman plague” pointed out that getting insufficient sleep contributes to getting sick.

All students should follow the advice by which Arianna Huffington lives—that we should schedule our sleep and treat it as a non-negotiable appointment. Given the evidence, this seems like an obvious lifestyle change that could massively improve student well-being. 

At a panel sponsored by The Huffington Post during the spring of 2016, then-sophomore Riley Griffin brought up the culture where students believe they must choose two out of school, socializing, and sleep. Frequently, they choose sleep. In particular, she said: “We face this excessive anti-sleep culture where we prioritize almost everything before we do health and wellness—specifically mental health. We are driven by motivations like GPA or even physical health in the sense that so many people prioritize working out or socializing, but sleep has always come last.” 

It’s not like getting enough sleep is rocket science. It’s arguably as challenging, if not less so, as eating healthy and exercising. The same survey mentioned earlier showed that Duke students perform better than the national average at these tasks. But it’s also impossible to ignore the reality that Griffin mentions. Religiously sleeping at the same time each night means that there are likely social experiences that will be missed. It might mean that homework is left undone, tests are not adequately studied for, or late night dorm room chats—a cornerstone of the college experience—are lost. People who do pre-orientation programs tend to gush about their experiences, despite that they barely get any sleep during these programs. Students will sometimes rave about the temporary sense of accomplishment they feel after finishing a big assignment or project (immediately after, they crash and fall asleep).  Even if the experiences aren’t entirely positive, they’re characterized as a part of the stereotypical college experience. 

Other scientific evidence suggests that lack of sleep can pose certain benefits, contrary to what Huffington asserts. Another body of research finds that not getting enough sleep one night may lead to “tireless stamina, enhanced creativity, heightened awareness, and a cheerful mood” in some cases. Sleep deprivation may be an effective treatment for some people dealing with depression. Others believe that getting too much sleep can be counterproductive. When it comes to choosing between undersleeping and oversleeping, undersleeping seems like the more efficient option to many. 

When considering pros and cons, it almost seems as though the price for having those interesting, valuable, wildly exciting college experiences equates to a degree of sleep deprivation. But should health be regarded as a luxury at a place where so many resources are easily accessible to us students? 

Our attitude toward the importance of sleep matter. It affects whether we choose to show up for the 8:30am class when we could use an extra hour of sleep. It affects whether we feel pity for the friend who pulled an all-nighter, or acknowledge it as a part of the student experience (as long as they sleep well the next night). Perhaps most importantly, it affects how much we truly believe the “sleep is temporary, GPA is forever” mentality. 

Amy Fan is a Trinity sophomore. Her column, "fangirling," runs on alternate Wednesdays. 

Amy Fan | fangirling

Amy Fan is a Trinity senior. Her column, "fangirling," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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