• Ethan Liebross


An undervalued key to college success: sleep.

It was a school night, and my friends were watching two-hour and twenty-one-minute Chennai Express, a Bollywood movie, in the neighboring dorm. It was 11:00 pm and, despite the outcry, I decided to leave the room and go to bed. I felt a bit of guilt for abandoning my friends. Also, a bit like an older man and a party pooper.

In my Freshman year of college, most nights, I was tucked under the covers in bed by 9:30 pm. I even bought a special $10 eye mask off of Amazon, so my roommate (who would stay up until 1:00 am) wouldn’t have to turn the lights off.

Sleep gets little respect from college students. We live in an era of “If you’re not pushing yourself to your limits, you’re doing it wrong.” In fact, we live in a country that has optimized productivity in its employees. We work more than we’ve ever worked before! With its free food, massage therapist, and onsite gyms, Google has developed a foolproof method to keep its employees so-called happy and healthy. Little do most know, it’s a way to suck more working hours out of the already burnt-out tech whiz.

Being overworked is often glamorized. Think—the idea of the “all-nighter” or what I like to call Red Bull’s biggest night for sales. Worse yet, “back-to-back all-nighters,” which occur more often than you’d ever believe. Or if you’re not convinced enough, think—Elon Musk. His story, which involved sleeping on the factory floor and working more than 120 hours a week, is to many the epitome of the American Dream.

Short intermission for an @CollegeStudent’s Tweet:

Mom: honey are you getting enough sleep? 

Me: sometimes when I sneeze my eyes close. 

According to a 2018 New York Times article (that my uncle sent to me during my first week of college), sleep quantity may be one of the leading factors to predict academic success. A study conducted by the University of St. Thomas found that “Each additional day per week on average a student experienced sleep problems raises the probability of dropping a course by 10% and lowers the cumulative GPA by .02.”

Let’s talk—alcohol. College students like to drink. I don’t think even your grandma would be surprised by that statement. Researchers found that a person running on three hours of sleep has the same level of performance as someone with a blood alcohol concentration of .08%, which is the limit officers can arrest you for a DUI. Now, can you imagine a situation where students binge drink and get little sleep? I think you get the point.

Let’s talk—mental health. It’s as easy to find a student with depression or anxiety in college as it is to find the nearest bathroom. Universities are putting more money toward satisfying the growing demand for counseling services than their academic programs. Poor “sleep hygiene,” as some call it, can be blamed.

According to Harvard Medical School research, sleep problems may increase your risk of developing mental health problems. It works the other way around too. Treating poor sleep may help alleviate symptoms of the mental health problem itself. Unfortunately, few institutions do anything to counter the effects of sleep deprivation. Some, like my school, may even encourage it with their 24-hour library access. Or, a bigger headache for me, dining halls that don’t open until 10:00 am on the weekends because they expect students to stay up all night partying.

Scientists say sleep is a habit. And like any other habit (i.e., brushing your teeth, saying “I love you” to your parents now and then, impulse buying), it can be reinforced or weakened. This research is good news! It means you have control over your health, which is one of the most empowering feelings you can have.

They say we sleep for approximately one-third of our lives, which is terrifying if you ask me. Even though we don’t completely understand why we sleep, we know sleep is essential thanks to evolutionary biologists. They have done their homework and found almost, if not all, living creatures sleep: cows (4 hours a day), cats (15 hours), giant hairy armadillos (20.4 hours), snails (up to 3 years). Since sleeping puts your life in greater danger (from a biologist’s perspective) and all living creatures sleep, sleep isn’t something to joke about.

Building wholesome sleep-habits early on, for example, in college, is crucial. Sleep is something, as you’ve learned, that won’t go away.

Thankfully, the American Academy of Medicine offers some suggestions for better sleep:

  • Go to bed and get up every day at approximately the same time, weekends included.

  • Avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime. Instead, do a calming activity like light reading or meditation.

  • Do not go to bed hungry, but don’t eat a big meal before bedtime either.

  • Avoid foods or drinks that contain caffeine and any medicine that has a stimulant before bedtime.

And my favorite:

  • Do not stay up all hours of the night to “cram” for an exam.

Take control of your health, stop skipping your 8:00 am class, and you’ll be a happier and healthier person, not to mention, a better student for it! Trust me.

Originally published: August 9th, 2019

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