“It’s late,” I say. “I try to be in bed by midnight.”
“Of course, you little humanities major, you,” she chuckles patronizingly. “If you can go to bed this early, you clearly don’t have a lot of work to do.”
Such interactions have become disturbingly common. Friends regularly tell me that I “sleep a lot,” when I actually sleep seven to eight hours a night with an occasional 30-minute nap during the day. They tell me that my schedule must be incredibly light, that I must be taking easy classes, and that I must not have much of a social life. I have relatively few problem sets, but I do have a full course load, a busy extracurricular schedule, and a lively social calendar. However, I value my mental health and cognitive function above all — and in order to do all that I do, I make it a priority to get enough sleep every night. For my friends, that has become a point of ridicule, but since when has it become acceptable to chastise someone for maintaining their mental health?
Since our campus-wide Mental Health Week, students have become more aware of mental illnesses and stressors than ever before. We were taught what resources there are for our inevitable mental health crises, we were introduced to Counseling and Psychological Services, and we took part in stress-reducing study breaks. All of this is undeniably important — but once Mental Health Week is over, most of us reverted to our prior habits. The basic things we need to do maintain our mental health were thrown to the wayside once the promotion ended. Students went back to priding themselves on sleeping only a few hours a night while taunting those who make sure to give their bodies and minds the rest that they need.
Adults, in general, need about eight hours of sleep to function adequately, and those who get four or six hours of sleep a night show signs of cognitive decline. Those who regularly sleep less than seven hours a night are at higher risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Furthermore, researchers have found that the United States economy loses somewhere between $280 and $411 billion because of the unproductivity caused by sleep deprivation. When we sleep, our brains form and prune synapses, allowing us to remember the information we learned the day before. Getting seven to eight hours of sleep is an unequivocal benefit to our bodies, minds, and grades, but why do so many of us shame those who prioritize it?
Many of us dismiss sleep as unproductive — after all, we don’t do anything when we sleep. Instead, many boast about what they’ve managed to accomplish during the hours when we should be sleeping. I’ve walked into class numerous times to find classmates competing in the “underslept Olympics,” all trying to best each other with their claims of who slept less. It’s generally those who spent their night sleeping who are ashamed to admit that they didn’t let their minds and bodies rest.
As Jessenia Class recently wrote in the Harvard Crimson, not getting enough sleep “shouldn’t be a badge of honor.” And neither should be getting enough sleep. It’s something that you should do for your own health and wellness. If someone gets enough sleep, it’s as if they eat healthfully or go to the gym. It’s something that they do to ensure that they function at their best. Suggesting that they sleep because they don’t have enough to do is a badge of dishonor you pin on yourself instead.
Mental Health Week should be every week, when you take care of yourself and create a positive environment for others. Just because CPS and the Mental Health Advisory Board aren’t hanging flyers in Frist doesn’t mean that efforts to stay healthy, both in body and mind, are no longer relevant. By the same token, it doesn’t mean that we now have license to shame those who make sure to get enough sleep at night.
Leora Eisenberg is a freshman from Eagan, Minn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.