Physical Health Sleep Wellness & Lifestyle

Getting Sleep

As a college student, I am all too familiar with sleepless nights: not just those spent cramming before a midterm, but also those spent in the city or at a friend’s apartment, doing unproductive things. I’m sure that a huge majority of the population has had similar experiences, and I know for a fact that there are a large number of college students who miss out on their full eight hours on a regular basis.

Let’s face the facts: humans evolved as diurnal creatures, not as nocturnal animals. Our systems are wired to function during the day, not to run marathons at three in the morning. Why else are most classes held during the day, most work shifts scheduled during the day, and most people resting at night? Our bodies reflect millions of years of evolution, millennia of foraging and hunting during the day, sleeping at night. You would have no trouble spotting people in class who stayed up the night before. Humans just don’t perform as well, or very well at all, when we don’t get enough sleep at night. Our mental capacity is lowered and our physical capabilities are hindered. You can’t expect to cram a semester’s worth of material into your head while sipping Red Bull at two in the morning, or even at noon if you haven’t slept much the previous night.

But I don’t have to tell you any of this. I’m sure everyone has heard too many times about getting eight hours of sleep every night (9 hours for teenagers, on average, and 7 for those past adolescence). So why aren’t you doing it?

For those who think they’re fine sleeping six hours a night, waking up at undefined hours, or going entirely without sleep every now and then, let me tell you that you can really benefit from fixing up your sleep schedule. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m not perfect, and I’ve been a hypocrite one too many times.

Once upon a time, when people told me to get nine hours of sleep, sleep early and wake early to be healthy, wealthy, and wise, and all of that good stuff, everything used to just go in one ear and out the other. Nine hours of sleep? That’s ridiculous, I’m doing fine on seven. A regular sleep schedule? No way, I’m not having any problems with my current erratic sleep schedule. I was different. I was getting by on an abysmal sleep schedule, and my (high school) GPA was still above 4.0. Things were going so well for me that sleeping was always the last thing on my mind.

Then one summer, things began to change. My friends and I had the stereotypical plans of being “intense” and staying up all night long for every other day of that summer to play poker, watch movies, and have fun. Sleep schedule? Who cares about that, we were going to be nocturnal and sleep during the day every other day. Why? Maybe it’s because everything is better at four in the morning. Maybe it’s because doing things while everyone else is asleep is cool. I actually don’t know why we made these crazy plans, and looking back, I am just glad that we were at least smart enough not to try our shenanigans during the school year. The first few days were fun, but the novelty wore off quickly. After a certain period of time, my friends and I found ourselves nodding off before or after lunch, too lazy to even call each other. No matter what you’re doing with your time or what obligations you have, following a decent sleep regimen is crucial.

Sure, there are people who work dead shifts, doctors who are on call in the wee hours of the morning, and firefighters who work for several consecutive days without rest. How many of these people do you think love being unable to sleep? I’d bet an arm and a leg that all of them would love to switch their hours around to more reasonable times of the day, because it’s not just about sleeping for a sufficient number of hours—it’s also about getting those hours of sleep at the correct time of the day. The only reason that such work hours exist is because you need someone to save you when your house catches fire at midnight, or someone to guard your bank vault when robbers attempt a bank heist at three in the morning.

Don’t think that you’re different, that somehow you’re not human or that your body has evolved in a way different from that of any other human being. It has taken me a regrettable semester to realize it, but since I’ve enrolled at UC Berkeley, I’ve realized the need for a regular sleep schedule. I’ve taken the steps to ensure that I get enough sleep every night, and I have a nice transcript to show for all of my work. Is having an hour or two more to relax worth all of the extra effort you need to put in to get decent grades in your classes? Is it worth having to stay up twice as many hours, and uncomfortable times past midnight at that?

Work hard, and in the short run, you might not be able to play as “hard” as you may wish, but at least you’ll be able to play comfortably. In the long run, you will be able to have a lot more fun than you would have if you never slept. But don’t take my word for it. As far as you’re concerned, I might just be yet another pretentious person, saying the same old rhyme. Try it out yourself. See for yourself what an extra hour of sleep every night can do for you. See how much easier your work can be when you sleep regularly and at reasonable hours.

Article by Jon Jeng

Feature Image Source: Science News for Students