The ‘college triangle’ states that students can only have two of the following: good grades, a social life, and enough sleep. The first time I saw this triangle years ago, I chose to prioritize “good grades” and “social life” without hesitation. The third option—”enough sleep”—seemed less essential to me. Within my first year of college, I realized that my two choices had aligned with reality.
I wish I could get more sleep, especially considering I have 8 a.m. classes four days a week, but making my dream of having an early bedtime come true seems impossible. I plan to go to bed early every night, but hours later, I often sit in front of my laptop, finishing homework or talking to friends on the phone. I’ve become a night owl; meanwhile, I have to be an early bird because of my morning classes.
Sleep deprivation has become an unofficial norm of college life. An estimated 56.8 percent of college students feel rested only three nights per week, according to the Center for College Sleep. At Emerson, I constantly hear students talking about sleeping only two or three hours at night in order to meet deadlines for schoolwork or extracurriculars. A freshman on Unigo reviews said about Emerson student activities and groups, “If you’re doing your job right, sleep doesn’t happen at Emerson.”
The review struck me because it’s true. Coming to a school full of aspiring writers, filmmakers, actors and other creative professionals, we work hard to achieve our dreams. At the same time, we know once we graduate we’ll be facing industries that may require irregular sleeping schedules or insufficient sleep. Yet, we still need to remember to prioritize sleep in the equation of our lives.
Prioritizing things such as school, work or friendships over the basic human need for sleep has negative consequences. Pennsylvania State University’s professor Orfeu Buxton said “when people don’t get enough sleep, they have more stressors and negative things occur the next day. It’s probably not just bad luck.”
This, however, is easier said than done. Many of us promise ourselves to get a good night sleep, but more often than not, we easily break that promise by binge-watching shows, going on our phones or finishing our procrastinated assignments.
For behavior changes to stick, it’s best to put thoughts “to rest” and stay away from a phone or laptop before bedtime, because screens can jeopardize a good night’s sleep. Using electronic devices before bed messes with and delays our circadian rhythm, according to Physiological Reports’ research on nighttime tablet and phone usage. In addition to avoiding screens, 15-30 minutes of daytime napping, exercising and meditating can also help improve sleep quality.
Some universities have started to combat students’ sleep deprivation with various counseling and courses to help students improve their sleep habits. Baylor University initiated “The 8-hour Challenge” that offers bonus points for students who get an average eight hours of sleep for five nights during finals week. According to the challenge, students who slept more performed better on their exams, excluding the extra points. It would be nice if someday, Emerson can introduce sleep classes too.
As for myself, I’ve been experimenting with various challenges to improve my sleep. One of the tricks I have found particularly helpful is to turn my phone on airplane mode during bedtime and place it away from my bed. This has helped me avoid looking at my cell phone in the dark, which can cause eye damage, and also allows me to get out of my bed instantly when I hear the alarm, instead of immediately hitting snooze.
As spring break approaches, I’m glad we can finally relax and get some good sleep. However, the ultimate goal of gaining healthy sleep habits shouldn’t only occur during a school break, but all the time. Remember, adequate sleep is a basic human need for health and wellness, not an impossibility for college students.