Neil Sandhu is a biomedical engineering senior and Mustang News opinion editor. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
As I hack away at my keyboard, my roommate is on hour 35 of an all-out war against his senior project. He’s usually a handsome guy and a hit with everyone he meets. Right now, however, he looks like something elementary schools show their students as a scare tactic to stop them from doing drugs.
His story is quite common; in fact it is all of our stories at some point in our college careers. All-nighters enjoy the same ubiquity on college campuses as textbooks and free condoms. They aren’t always avoidable, either. Sometimes life throws you a curveball and you have no choice but to burn the midnight oil in the numbing silence of the 24-hour section of Kennedy Library.
What’s terrifying to me isn’t that the 24-hour section looks like how Windows 8 would look if Windows 8 were furniture. At least, it’s not just that. What really scares me is the shameless sense of pride we all feel from our lack of sleep.
On average, college students get about six to seven hours of sleep per night, which isn’t all that bad. Seven hours is enough to ward off delirium and still make it through the day without your cerebral hemispheres rolling brown-outs like L.A. during a hot summer. However, despite these promising averages, self-reporting studies still show that 20 percent of students are willing to admit they pull all-nighters at least once per month.
Although there is no way to tell if these numbers are inflated, they are indicative of a trend I’ve become all too aware of: we are proud of how little we sleep. It’s nearly impossible to slump down into an 8 a.m. class without overhearing a peer bragging about how little they slept the night before. All-nighter stories are like the “fishing stories” of secondary education; they are filled with harrowing tales of conquest and triumph. The stories portray the students reaching some Adderall and caffeine-induced nirvana where they achieve a level of efficiency usually reserved for perpetual motion machines. (Editors note: the issue of study-aid abuse on college campuses is too nuanced to properly address in this article, but it is important to recognize that it is a dangerous and trying issue in itself).
The point is that we have begun to measure our work ethic by how little we sleep and as a result have began to take pride in it.
For people in full-time jobs, work ethic is measured by how long their work week is. It is easy to recognize the correlation between hours spent on the job and dedication to your field. As students, no one clocks how many individual hours we spend studying, finishing labs or tirelessly tap-tap-tapping away on a keyboard at SLO Donut Co. Instead, the only aggregate measure of our work ethic is how little time we spend tucked away in our beds.
Don’t get me wrong, being proud of how hard you work is by no means a bad thing. I am not advocating for students to work less or even claiming we are all working as hard as we should. I am merely questioning the way we measure our own drive.
Sleep is important. It helps lower hypertension, increase sex drive, decrease depression and improve attention span. It may not be entirely understood, but it is widely regarded as the most important part of our daily routines. By taking pride in how little sleep we get, we are all participating in the glorification of self-sabotage.
Obviously the topic of sleep deprivation is less sensitive and emotionally charged than other forms of self-harm, but it still perpetuates a culture that puts our own health second to our own success.
By using lack of sleep as a metric for our work ethic, we are convoluting an unhealthy habit with a point of pride. If our poor sleep is our primary means of measuring our drive, then it is easy for students to fall into the trap of thinking that sleeping less will bring them more success.
It is important we divorce the two ideas and start giving student health the dedication it deserves while still being proud of our work.
If we stop thinking of our sleep as a currency we can spend for success, we might be able to make it through a morning class without someone bragging about our ever-shortening life span.
So to my roommate and the rest of you who have watched the sun rise this week, by all means, keep on trucking. Just don’t be ashamed to tap out once in a while.