Walking across campus last week, I overheard a conversation between two young men. One said to the other, “I went to bed at one, got up at seven. I got six hours; that’s a good night for me.” Without context, I can’t be sure why he stayed up late, but I know that six hours is less sleep than he should be getting. In order to maximize important processes like energy rejuvenation and cell growth, everyone needs at least eight hours of sleep each night.
As college students, we put that fact aside, and educators and administrators are taking notice. Colleges are deciding that reminders to students to sleep eight hours should extend beyond a few posters or a short reminder during an orientation talk. But is your time actually better spent studying or sleeping? Science suggests sleeping. Colleges are finally embracing this concept, and now there are large campaigns educating students about the science of sleep — how much we should get and under what conditions the best sleep can be had.
On the University Health Services website, there is a whole page dedicated to sleep. “Not sleeping for more than 24 hours affects performance as much as a blood alcohol level above the legal limit,” it tells you in 11-point font. I don’t know about you, but taking a test drunk seems problematic. Such startling information should warrant at least 14-point font and more than one webpage.
Several universities have enacted sleep campaigns that include a “flash nap.” The University of Lousiville is planning an event much like a flash mob, during which students sleep instead of dancing. Rather than learning choreography in workshops, students are educated on the benefits of taking 20-40 minute naps. Then when participants finally nap, they stop where they are and collapse to the ground, asleep. That would be a kind of frightening sight, but University of Louisville officials say it has led to more awareness of the benefits of sleep. So why hasn’t UT spread this information far and wide, especially now that there is a campus-wide push for raising four-year graduation rates?
Sleep is the answer to all of our woes. One study suggests that getting enough sleep could raise a student’s grade in a class by a full letter. This could mean the difference between passing and graduating, or having to retake calculus after sleepless nights resulted in an F. It might even allow more students to test out of core classes needed to graduate in four years.
Part of the problem is that very few and very small colleges are the main leaders in this push for sound sleep. At small Hastings College in Nebraska, students sit on mattresses in the student union building and talk about sleep, while Macalester College in Minnesota distributes a map of all the nicest napping spots on campus. Few large institutions have pushed sleeping campaigns with the same vigor, perhaps because many of those paying the bills would be unhappy that students are being told the best thing they can do is sleep.
UT should be working harder to educate us about this problem. If the average American student receives 6.5 hours of sleep, then this is a big problem that can only be solved if students are aware of it. If students were shown that their grade could increase by X percent if they got Y more hours of sleep on average, they might be willing to forgo the 3 a.m. cramming sessions — though it might be a problem to convince our rowdy neighbors that our beauty sleep is more important than their game of Edward 40-hands.
Sleeplessness is the enemy. If we sleep more, we’ll no longer be strung-out, tired, red-eyed college students who stumble into class late. No more Red Bull. No more late nights on Reddit.
No more all-nighters. The positive effects of being well-rested will bleed into other aspects of our lives. Promise me you’ll sleep on it.
Adams is a government and economics junior from Dallas.