When I was accepted to Barnard, I received my admitted student packet filled with several flyers, including an incomprehensible list of approved transfer credits, and a sleep mask with a note that said something along the lines of, “In the city that never sleeps, you’re going to need this.” It was both cute and ominous.
I’ve had insomnia for as long as I can remember. I used to lie awake when I was supposed to be napping, three years old and bored out of my mind. I would then get up at five the next morning, forcing one of my parents to relocate to the living room couch and (try to) sleep while I played with, among other things, a set of plastic bocce balls that I can only assume were very loud.
Fast forward to this semester, and I’m lying awake at three in the morning, composing a tweet that is just a list of every prescription, over-the-counter, or *other* drug I’ve used specifically to fall asleep. I came up with 17 of them.
Since my dream job is to become an advice columnist, I will now offer some advice: Do not take a fifth ZzzQuil if the first four didn’t work. When I did this, not only did I not immediately fall asleep, but I also woke up in the middle of the night to check my pulse because I truly thought all of my internal body processes had stopped and I was dead.
Luckily, though, I’m still alive and always ready to shit on Columbia stress culture, specifically that we take pride in how little we sleep. You guys, this is ridiculous! From a public health perspective, sleep deprivation increases one’s risk of a variety of illnesses, including depression. It also negatively impacts cognitive performance, which is obviously not what we want in the ~ivory tower~.
But everyone probably knows this already. I can’t think of a single Columbia student who would actually be surprised to learn that sleep deprivation has negative health effects. So the real question is: Why do we continue to knowingly worsen our physical and mental health by depriving ourselves of sleep, and then take pride in it?
Columbia obviously has a lot of systematic issues like huge course loads, strict academic policies, and faculty members’ refusal to allow extensions. But I can’t see how we’re justified in complaining about it if we take pride in playing along and depriving ourselves of sleep to meet these unrealistic requirements. We can’t keep saying, “Columbia is terrible and I’m proud of how terribly I’m handling the stress of being here!” That sounds absurd!
It is infuriating to hear people bragging about how little they choose to sleep when I am always trying to sleep but often end up lying awake until the early hours of the morning. I can almost guarantee that I’ve unintentionally gotten as little sleep as someone spending the night in Butler to study quantum physics or write an orgo lab report or to write an absolutely terrible paper about The House of Mirth. (Okay, that one was about me; the latest I’ve stayed up to do work was when I had to write a paper about The House of Mirth. It was terrible.)
Being sleep deprived often gives me a headache and makes me feel nauseous. My memory and ability to concentrate are noticeably worse and my mood is more volatile. If I could choose to get more sleep (or get someone to prescribe me Ambien) I absolutely would.
So, as the end of the semester approaches, I urge you to not drink coffee with dinner (the half-life of caffeine is five to six hours!), not brag that you only slept for three hours (not cute), and most of all, to swallow your stress-pride and ask for an extension if you need it. Obviously, some due dates are fixed, but with everybody taking different permutations of classes and following different schedules, it’s not unreasonable to request some flexibility with deadlines. And considering the amount of school and number of extracurriculars that we are all dealing with, it shouldn’t be uncommon.
I think that, as a student body, we do have influence over academic policies, but only if we communicate what we need in order to be successful. It would help me and anyone who doesn’t have the inhuman ability to function well without sleep, to normalize the idea that we shouldn’t have to jeopardize our health to finish assignments.
The author thinks she missed her calling as a pharmacist. If you would like any advice about sleep drugs or have any novel combinations to suggest, send an email to email@example.com. High Entropy ran alternate Wednesdays.
To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.