It took me one semester of six all-nighters, a three-week cold and some dramatic shifts in my social life for me to get it: sleep matters.
It's no secret that college students don't get enough sleep. Between late-night homework hours and early-morning phone alarms, bad sleep habits are all too prevalent in today's college culture. These habits coupled with students' busy class, work and social schedules leave all too many college kids burned out and dangerously exhausted.
Last semester, I was one of those students. I experienced the frightening first-hand effects that a lack of sleep and an overloaded schedule can have on a college student. I found myself working on homework well past 1 a.m. every night, only to wake up again for the daily grind at 6:30 a.m. During midterms, I even pulled two back-to-back all-nighters... yes, it was as bad as it sounds.
As a result, my whole life started to change. I was sick more often, my attention span shortened and my attitude was worse. I grew distant from my friends and rarely spoke to or visited my family. Looking back, I even found my performance at my three jobs declined (which is ironic because I was staying up late primarily to keep on top of my workload). Everyone who was close to me seemed to notice that something was off, and it took me until this semester to realize what that something was: my sleep habits.
My story is far from abnormal. I see college students every day who struggle with the same balance of sleep and work. Here at the University of Southern California, words like these are shared far too often:
What's most upsetting is the praise that immediately follows these sorts of statements. College students always seem impressed when one of their sleepy counterparts brags of a restless week or a 4 a.m. bedtime made possible thanks to copious caffeine levels.
Regrettably, I even find myself applauding students who suffer from frequent late work nights. As a tour guide for USC, I point out our 24-hour library on every tour and explain, "It's said you aren't a true USC student until you've seen the sun rise from one of the library's windows." But why is pulling an all-nighter in an empty library the act that makes someone a "true" USC student? There's a whole lot more to college than a sleepless night, and those who avoid seeing that sunrise are the students we should really be commending.
It seems we live in a culture that has assigned a degree of respect to anyone who proudly proclaims, "Yeah, I pulled an all-nighter." We shouldn't be impressed; we should be sorry.
Every day, researchers and medical experts are pushing to raise awareness of the detrimental effects poor sleep habits can have on people. Julia Kirby of the Harvard Business Review summarized the severity of neglecting sleep by sharing a shocking chart that equates fatigue to alcohol impairment:
This means that a person running on three hours of sleep has the same level of performance as someone who has a blood alcohol concentration of .08%--the legal limit for driving under the influence of alcohol. Next time you're planning on staying up an extra few hours to finish your paper, consider that you will have the perception and judgment of someone who is legally too drunk to drive.
Sadly, too many students make that exact decision regardless of the warnings. As a result, their health pays the price. Many medical experts say sleep deficiency can age your skin, cause weight gain, lead to heart disease and even weaken your sex drive. One study from the University of North Texas suggests the risk for developing depression is ten times higher for people with insomnia compared to those with healthy sleeping habits.
All that in mind, is the late-night grind really worth the results?
This semester, I decided it's not. I've made some changes to my schedule, my priorities and my life. I enrolled in slightly less demanding classes, took on a less time-consuming job and allotted for more free time in my schedule. I've been more active, more happy and all around more successful.
Some of the most accomplished business leaders across the country are beginning to recognize the correlation between success and sleep as well. Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, has become one of the most outspoken advocates for the benefits of sleep. Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, who gets seven-and-a-half hours of sleep every night, has also become a major sleep supporter as he often speaks out against applauding unwise sleeping decisions.
This semester, I made the choice to prioritize sleep and success. I urge you to do the same. It's up to us to change college culture and usher in a new generation of students--a generation that strips the pride associated with all-nighters and grants glorification to those who sleep well. Let's start paving the path toward a healthier, more successful future.
This post is part of our series on sleep culture on college campuses. To join the conversation and share your own story, please email our Director of College Outreach Abby Williams directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can find out here if the #SleepRevolution College Tour will be visiting your campus, and learn how you can get involved. If your college is not one of the colleges already on our tour and you want it to be, please get in touch with Abby.