Why College Students Should Do Less And Sleep More

03/03/2016 05:03 pm ET Updated Mar 04, 2017

Fun fact: the F'real Frozen Coffee is infinitely more effective than any double-shot espresso.

How did I learn this? My friends informed me of this great discovery right before finals my sophomore year. The supposedly magical F'real Frozen Coffee is available right in the student center; it claims to have double the caffeine of the average market coffee, but it feels like quadruple--and I was desperate.

At Princeton, we have a waking nightmare called Dean's Date, the day when all final papers are due. As an English major, I had four papers due that particular Dean's Date. Despite my best efforts to spread out my work, I still ended up with a comically long to-do list on Dean's Date Eve.

So there I was, sipping on my Frozen Coffee, the Everclear of caffeinated drinks, at one in the morning. Four hours later, I decided it was time to call it a night. My head was so muddled that revising sentences meant rendering them increasingly ungrammatical. At half past five, I crawled into bed at last.

But I couldn't fall asleep.

I laid in the dark and literally jittered. My hands were shaking. The tremor matched the heartbeat that I couldn't slow down no matter how much I repeated the breathing exercises I'd learned from clickbait articles on my newsfeed. One deep inhale, seven short exhales. One deep inhale, seven short exhales. The skin around my eyes felt brittle and bloodless. Whenever I opened them, I was overcome with vertigo. But I couldn't sleep. After an hour or so, I eventually accepted this fate, got up, showered, and went to get breakfast, jittering still.


"In the past four years, I've fallen ill more frequently and seriously than I ever did the previous eighteen."

I've told this story fairly often in the two years since. At first, it was with some sense of slightly deranged pride--"Wow, look at me go, I'm such a college girl through and through." In the world of competitive institutions where gratification comes from the group masturbatory fulfillment of winning the I-have-more-work-than-you competition, I felt like a champ.

Now, as a second semester senior, I tell this story to ridicule my former sophomoric notions of "cool." Perhaps I'm just going through another phase shared by my peers, but I find that our sick little competition has transitioned into a how-much-more-I-sleep-than-you game. I'm annoyed with myself when I'm the last of my roommates to hit the sack, and happy to boast if I clocked more than seven hours a particular night. When my friends and I hear about somebody who regularly sleeps fewer than five hours a night, the reaction is no longer the "Woah" of yesteryear, but "Ew, why?"

Every year at Princeton has been a strenuous learning curve. In the past four years, I've fallen ill more frequently and seriously than I ever did the previous eighteen. The lady who's cut my hair since I was in elementary school tells me I've lost at least a quarter of my "natural volume" since high school. Every adult family member tells me to sleep more. For a long time, I growled back that there's no way around it, that there's just too much work, that sleep is simply not an option.


"I slept for almost eight hours last night, and I'm now very ready for a nap at 3 p.m. Yet I'm not doing any poorer in my classes, or failing to juggle my senior thesis with a part-time job and extracurricular commitments."

This year, however, many senior friends of mine have mentioned that they've been getting more sleep and yet feeling just as tired as ever before. I feel the same. I slept for almost eight hours last night, and I'm now very ready for a nap at 3 p.m. Yet I'm not doing any poorer in my classes, or failing to juggle my senior thesis with a part-time job and extracurricular commitments. Sure, I can always do better, but I'm not doing worse.

What this tells me is that 1) we've all accumulated an unsightly amount of sleep debt, and 2) we can all do fine in school with way more sleep than we thought we could get.

Like many others, I'm an advocate for the "do less, sleep more" lifestyle. It's not an original stance to take, but I'm writing about it here because as with most things in growing up (especially, it seems, in college), hindsight is the only way to learn anything. Unfortunately, whether it's romantic relationships, academics, socializing, or general living, we all tend to seek the advice of our seniors without truly understanding, believing, or following it. But that is why I still tell my F'real story to any puffy-eyed, stress-acned young soul who will listen--to prove that I, too, once believed that sleep was impossible. But the sooner you realize the following, the happier you'll be:

You, dear college student, can sleep more, if you choose to.

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 abigail.williams@huffingtonpost.com. 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.