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Do we really need eight hours?

mind over matter

We don’t need eight hours of sleep each night. In fact, I think we would be better off being tired every once and awhile. I hate when people ask me how many hours of sleep I got the past night. Especially at Duke, the question either comes as a work ethic litmus test or some type of health evaluation. Secretly encoded into questions about sleep are often more pointed and assumption-based inquiries. How much do I care about my Chemistry midterm? How many practice tests did I complete? Do I or do I not adequately value sleep? I should be treating my body better.

I’ll say it. I think the whole eight hours of sleep requirement each night is a hoax. All I know is that life happens after 10:00 p.m.

Life happens when I am laying on my bed, tired and half comatose from a draining day, but making time to talk about political theory with my roommate. Or when I stayed on west so late on a Sunday night that I missed the buses, not for partying but simply because I wanted to know how my best friend was really doing. I credit a comment made at 11:45 p.m. for encouraging me to develop in my faith. A 1:30 a.m. discussion ignited my passion for global health. And a 2:00 a.m. phone call helped me discover a recipe that exactly replicates the beauty that is Vondy apple rum bread. Tired eyes and weary bodies often enable some of the best ideas and conversations. Sometimes a little sleep deprivation is a dose of truth serum.

I was reading my neuroscience textbook called The Mind’s Machine 12:15 a.m. when I came across a passage that said sleep deprivation and irregular sleep cycles, specifically in college students, will lead to death. Anyone within a 50-foot radius on the first floor of Perkins likely heard my laughter. What a claim, I thought, to correlate consistently sleeping for less than eight hours per night with death. By this logic, I know about three people at Duke that should be alive.

Still, I know that my love for late night conversations cannot be sustained. I have to acknowledge this Duke bubble, removal from reality that affords me the opportunity to so confidently disregard certain good health practices for the pursuit of maximum fulfillment in our four short years here. 

As I write this article, I feel so grateful for my nine and a half hours of sleep last night. According to The Mind’s Machine, sleeping for over eight hours extends the normal day wake cycle and is indicative of sleep deprivation. For the first time in a couple days this morning, the sun beat me out of bed, and I did not amble over to ABP coffee immediately after leaving my room. In this way, I will give sleep the credit it deserves. This recovery period proves necessary for frugally using sleep during most of the week. 

The science behind sleep is hard to refute. I am absolutely convinced that sleeping at a regular time schedule and for an adequate amount of time helps focus, aid recovery, and improve one’s mood. After a hard workout or long run, my bed is my best recovery tool. More than anecdotal information, however, neurological systems which influence sleep have been widely studied and reviewed to corroborate these textbook claims that set standards for optimal sleep practices. I will also add that I genuinely enjoy sleeping; it is one of my favorite activities. The warmth of one’s own bed (especially with an added mattress topper) wins my heart each morning and remains the reason that I never fail to press the snooze button.

But I am hyper-aware that the 24 hours afforded us each day never feels like enough. Many of us will likely agree that during midterm season, hours slept means hours not buried in a textbook. That can be scary. What is more frightening to me is that each hour spent sleeping seems like an hour lost to live life. A few moments less of bright-eyed smiles, hysterical laughter, or beautifully thoughtful comments.

It takes a delicate balance to know when to head to bed and when to ask another probing question. But spare some of us the stares or questions when I run into class chugging a coffee or when I take a quick power nap in between classes. While counterintuitive to say, I know that I am a better person for staying up a little later. 

Naima Turbes is a Trinity first-year. Her column, “mind over matter,” typically runs on alternate Thursdays.

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