It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you wake up early. I mean really early, like not before your classes start (at noon), but before even the earliest classes in the University (more like 8:30 a.m.). Since many of my fellow undergrads may not have experienced this in a while, let me try to explain.
Stumbling to the sidewalk with bleary eyes and a yawn at 6:30 a.m., the first thing you notice is not a single other being is awake — except for the birds and, well, the “real” people commuting to their jobs and responsibilities. Also you notice that, mercifully, the baristas at Espresso Royale are also awake. Some of them are college students and I really don’t know how they do it. They must just stay awake from the night before. At that moment, stumbling out of Espresso, beverage in hand, eyes clearing up, you see the sun starting to peek over the horizon and you feel — in spite of yourself — a sense of power, a sense of a head-start, a sense of being a leader. This grows inside of you as you head toward the library (and the caffeine starts to kick in). Fantasies of finishing the course pack two months early float around in your head, and instantly shatter when you pull the door handle to the library and it’s locked.
The Hatcher Graduate Library is closed from 2 to 8 a.m. This curious policy of the University library system is frustrating on those early mornings, and not only because I’m naturally inclined to be grumpy before mid-afternoon. Surely library administrators set these hours in response to the actual usage patterns of us night-owl undergraduates, but is this policy in line with what the University is trying to accomplish?
If we’re not the leaders and the best before we set foot on campus, the University aims to make it happen before we exit through the fountain and march onward to graduation. It’s true — it’s in Mary Sue’s vision statement.
The content of that statement helps determine the direction taken and decisions made by the administration on an everyday basis. Curious then, that some really great words are not in there to describe the desired output of the University. “Happy” or “happiness” isn’t in there. Neither is “healthy,” nor is the word “sleep.” Although, admittedly, the University does “champion…policy research to advance health, quality of life, and longevity of our own community.”
With that in mind, the University should love this meta-analysis of sleep research conducted by Franzis Preckel and others last year. Chronotype data from more than 7,500 people showed a positive correlation between people that prefer evening time and cognitive intelligence. So smart people stay up late, and that would be fantastic if that were the end of the story. Instead, Preckel and his team found people that stay up late have less academic success than early risers. Another study, conducted by a team at the University of North Texas found that early risers, on average, have a full letter grade over evening-types.
Scientific studies and popular articles proclaiming the benefits of a healthy night’s sleep have become so numerous they’re hardly worth citing here. We know (although we may not yet know the mechanism by which this happens) that proper sleep increases cognitive functioning, memory tasks and positive outlook. We also know that sleep disorders co-occur with numerous mental and brain disorders, not to mention obesity. Furthermore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tells us that sleep deprivation contributes to 100,000 accidents each year and most of these occur between midnight and 2 a.m. and 4 and 6 a.m. While no one is operating a vehicle in the Hatcher Grad, how much effective studying can be going on there during that time?
Library administrators took a step in the right direction today with the announcement that the Shapiro Undergraduate Library will soon be open 24 hours a day. However, aside from the Duderstadt Center (conveniently located on North Campus), this is the only University library with this luxury. Certainly, the University administration must always strive to strike a balance between reacting to the habits of the community and implementing paternalistic policy. The presence of smokers on the Diag didn’t stop the campus ban on smoking, yet the evidence of the benefits of proper sleep-wake cycles is almost as robust as the evidence arrayed against nicotine. If the libraries are going to continue to allow for inefficiency and damaging student sleep habits, at the very least they shouldn’t stand in the way of students who’re embodying the “leaders and best” mantra by getting a head start on their day.