So many people suffer from it yet few suffer as severely as the average college student. The effects of the epidemic are everywhere: empty coffee cups and Redbull cans, glazed eyes, a few people slumped in a doze at the back of a lecture. It is not uncommon to hear students discussing how tired they are or how little they have been sleeping.
In fact, it is usually more surprising to hear of anyone with a healthy and consistent sleep schedule. When people get more than seven or eight hours of sleep, it is a rare occurrence that usually happens only after several nights of sleep deprivation or after sleeping in for half a day on the weekend. Other times, people try to take back the sleep they can with long naps or short dozes between classes. Anywhere you look on a college campus, someone is either suffering from exhaustion or trying to keep it at bay with naps and energy drinks.
So why are we so tired all the time?
While much of the reason for weariness can be attributed to the massive workload many college students take on, this amount is not always as high as we’d like to think. Tests, assignments, projects and studio time piling up can force some to start scraping time out of their sleep schedule — but do they pile up because we’re actually that busy or do they pile up because our time management isn’t as efficient as it could be?
Countless people battle procrastination on a regular basis. If we’re not careful, it can be the thing that causes work to pile up and ultimately makes us dip into our sleep budget to compensate for it.
For people employed outside of school or taking on a high number of credit hours, it can be a struggle to get a sufficient amount of sleep every night. This is especially true if procrastination is involved. Other times, work can pile up despite our best efforts, so we just have to push through the weariness.
Other reasons for tiredness could be attributed to diet. Lack of a balanced diet or consistent eating schedule can deprive the body of valuable nutrients and thus valuable energy. At one time, all of us were guilty of eating only one meal a day or opting for some quick, unhealthy snacks to “fuel” us throughout the day instead of eating actual meals because we felt too busy or too lazy to do otherwise.
If you find this becoming a habit of yours, consider taking the time to eat something a little more substantial. When you’ve only had five or six hours of sleep, eating only a few granola bars and bags of chips will only make things worse.
It doesn’t help that society doesn’t prioritize sleep, despite it being one of the most crucial things a person needs to function properly. We want to seem like we don’t need sleep, because nowadays, being tired can be like wearing a proud badge that says, “Look, I’m tired because I just work so hard. I don’t need sleep to function.”
That is a lie. When we internalize ideas like that, we pretend we function just as well sleep-deprived as we do when we get seven hours or more. We devote less time and importance to sleeping. This in turn yields careless behavior, like lazy internet surfing, gaming or binge watching simply because we can. It is easier to go with the body’s momentum and stay up, especially if one is accustomed to staying up late.
We need this time. The brain uses sleep to process what we’ve learned during the day and move information from short-term to long-term storage. This happens during REM sleep, so light naps won’t cut it.
A lack of sleep can do much more than make one feel grouchy or less focused. Sleep deprivation can actually increase the risk of obesity and chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes. It can also lower your immune system, thereby making it harder to fight infections.
Fixing this is easier said than done. I admit I wrote most of this article late at night while running on coffee and hypocrisy. However, the only hope to treating this epidemic is to take it into our own hands. College students need to recognize the true value of rest and start making more of an effort to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. If the very thought of that makes you laugh, then you need sleep the most. Trust me on this and close Youtube and Netflix. Put the device down. In the morning, your body will thank you for it.