01/29/2013 12:15 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2013

Exhaustion, Hallucinations, and Sickness -- the Effects of College Sleeplessness

It's been quite an interesting few days for me. As a perpetually sleepy human being, long, stressful school weeks take their toll on my sanity and my physical health. Ever since I arrived at college, I have been taking notice of the odd happenings in my life directly tied to little or no rest and have wondered if the same crazy things happen to my fellow classmates. These days, I cannot take an elevator ride without hearing about someone's latest "all-nighter" or "study session at three in the morning," and frankly, I do not know how these people do it and survive. If you are one of those people, please teach me your ways.

All of the following instances are completely true and have occurred in the last six days. The increased levels of stress thanks to my very first college tests and my attempts to balance all aspects of my life drove me over the edge. If you are experiencing any of this, I would suggest immediately heading to bed.  No matter how much you like coffee or Red Bull, I would not recommend using caffeine as a sleep hinderer. However, that's a completely different subject.

First, I began to find it almost impossible to focus on anything. Spacing out with my mouth hanging wide open and my head slumped to one side was a common occurrence, and only after about five minutes of complete "la-la-land" exposure did I come back to Earth. Attempts to complete my Astronomy homework, for example, quickly became a 15-minute staring contest with a random sticky note on my corkboard. Concepts that had been simple in class became Greek to me on paper, and I, a normally very organized person, overlooked a Math assignment and became a mess of tears and speedy typing fingers half an hour before the submission deadline.

Second, I experienced the spooky phenomena known as a hallucination. Contrary to popular belief, one does not have to suffer from a debilitating mental disorder to have a hallucination-- sleep deprivation causes this as well. My delusion was rather mild but still frightening: for hours, I had the prickly feeling that someone was following me. My irritability and paranoia spiked, followed by perhaps the strangest and most dangerous occurrence of all. I began to enter into states of mind that I had completed tasks that I, in fact, had not. For instance, while eating dinner, I ran over my mental to-do list and was content with the fact that both my English and Survey homework had been completed. I even uncovered mental images of myself completing this homework, so imagine my surprise when I found the unfinished assignments!

Third, my physical appearance drastically changed from each night to each morning according to how long I had slept and where I had slept. After my "best" night of sleep, I awoke, eyes glued together with rheum, lips severely chapped and hair disheveled. I felt not refreshed, but angry that five hours of sleep had done absolutely nothing for me. On a different night, I fell asleep at a table on top of an assignment and awoke the next morning with purple eyes, a sallow face, and the shakes from sleeping in the cold common room. Another quite interesting side effect of my sleep-deprived week was my obviously fluctuating weight. My eating habits and appetite became sporadic and my weight differed by a number of pounds every day.

By Friday, I was sick of this. Performing in class, at rowing, and just going along in daily life was becoming nearly impossible -- I needed to do nothing. I made sure I had no plans last night, and I slept for approximately 11 hours. I woke up this morning feeling better than I have since I entered college a month ago, and my outlook on the rest of my college career has been drastically altered. Not sleeping is not fun! Both your body and mind suffer from missing out on the sweet stasis of slumber.

By Lacey Ross, Ohio State University