7 a.m. wake-up time, four classes, running errands and I’m finally able to sit down to write this column at eight o’clock at night, with caffeine from two cups of coffee and a tea coursing through my veins to fight off my exhaustion. I am tired, and I feel like I cannot admit that in public.
Our campus culture has a weird fascination with a lack of sleep. Surviving off of four hours of sleep per night is something many seem to brag about. Sleep deprivation shouldn’t be celebrated. It is not a good thing for students to feel the need to sacrifice their health to achieve their academic and professional goals. A massive restructuring of our campus culture that prioritizes student mental and physical health is in order. Whether this is in the form of professors designing their coursework to not overstrain students or changing our campus culture to not solely praise intense, energetically-draining academic and professional development, something needs to change, or our current health crisis is only going to be exacerbated.
The National Sleep Foundation reports that teenagers need eight to 10 hours of sleep and college-aged people need seven to nine hours. A study from the University of Georgia reports that the average college student sleeps 6 to 6.9 hours per night. The cause of this lack of sleep, it reports, is the excess of activities that are thrust upon students. Another report has shown that the academic rigor of a school is positively correlated with later bedtimes for students. Lack of sleep is a problem on campuses nationwide, and the effects of sleep deprivation are far-reaching. Not sleeping for 24 hours is equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of 0.10%, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Other effects of chronic sleep deprivation include fatigue, irritability, difficulties focusing and concentrating as well as brain fog. All of these are detrimental to succeeding while pursuing a college education.
Colleges, the University of Michigan being one of them, love to claim that they care about their students’ mental health. However, the structure of their courses and the campus cultures they support prove otherwise. It has been shown that instructors tend to assign more work than they realize to students who are already overworked. I am employed on campus, conduct lab research and write for The Michigan Daily on top of keeping up with my academics. Some would argue that I am doing this to myself and do not need to keep my schedule this busy. But I must maintain this jam-packed schedule in order to be competitive for graduate school or internship opportunities. By adding excessive amounts of assigned writing and reading, many other students and I must stay up late in the night just to finish all of these assignments with bare minimum effort. Studies have shown that homework that takes two hours or more each night is counterproductive as it leads to increased stress, sleep deprivation and other physical health issues.
No sense of achievement or a grade is worth incurring long-term damage to your mental and physical health. Sleep is one of the most basic human needs. Lack of sleep has detrimental consequences — it has a direct link to our cognitive abilities. Sleep deprivation has been shown to actually worsen academic performance instead of improve it. All-nighters do not work. More importantly, though, not getting enough sleep weighs heavily on your emotional well-being and can lead to unhappiness. The college experience is draining, and a main way for students to destress is socializing, but students can’t socialize if they are drowning in work and extracurriculars. In order to socialize, students have to stay up later and cut into their sleep time. Students should not have to sacrifice their sleep to hang out with friends.
Another issue on campus is the peculiar social clout that comes from having the ability to sustain unhealthy sleep habits. I’m even guilty of this. Multiple times I have bragged about how productive I’ve been on such little sleep. What is that really accomplishing for myself? Is the slightest bit of praise I receive from others worth the toll I am taking on my body for not getting enough rest? I don’t think so. Our culture rewards those that prioritize work over sleep and grades over health. That is abhorrent. Not to say that one should not strive to be the best student they can be, but this should not come at the expense of long-term effects on one’s health, such as an increase in one’s risk for heart disease and high blood pressure.There needs to be a restructuring of college life, because right now it’s not working. Due to the mountains of work college students have to complete, they have to stay up late, therefore losing precious time that should be spent sleeping. Sleep is the key to success in college. It is what determines our energy levels, ability to concentrate and function and, perhaps most crucially, our ability to learn. We are in college to meet people that challenge our perspectives and grow as individuals. More importantly, we are here to learn. Lack of sleep can have devastating effects on health and future success, so it is important to get enough of it. Sleep is important, and it is time to treat it with the respect it deserves.
Ben Davis is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.