While walking to Firestone in the late hours of a recent November night, I was interrupted by a friend who remarked that I looked incredibly fatigued. My friend tried to persuade me to get a good night’s sleep and start fresh the next morning, in lieu of a late night in the bookshelves. After some hesitation, I agreed, and returned to my dorm for a rarely satisfying sleep. The next day I found myself feeling incredibly well-rested and able to tackle my work more efficiently. This whole experience got me thinking: in the pursuit of success at Princeton, is it really necessary to incessantly deprioritize sleep, as countless Princetonians claim to do? I argue that sleep deprivation absolutely does not have to be the norm on campus.
To begin with, sleep deprivation is profoundly horrible for your emotional well-being and ability to academically perform. Yet getting sufficient sleep has a profoundly positive impact on your overall health and on your ability to learn. In other words, sleep deprivation is actually counterproductive to being academically successful and, more importantly, to being a physically and mentally healthy human being. So why do we thoroughly and destructively deprioritize something our bodies and minds so desperately need for basic functioning?
Perhaps it’s because Princeton is demanding and never really stops being demanding. It is way too easy to get into a brutal sleep-deprivation cycle while trying to keep up with these demands. Club meetings, athletic practices, social commitments, procrastination, and more can easily prevent Princeton students from starting their work at a reasonable hour, and there is undoubtedly a lot of work to get done. Consequently, we often start at a time when we should be going to bed and instead work until 1 or 2 a.m., if not much later, then wake up early for class. The rest of the day we are tired and so we might take a nap in the afternoon or work slowly, both of which mean we’ll have to stay up later to finish the remaining work, fueling a vicious cycle.
Further, I believe the cause of sleep deprivation is multifaceted, based on both Princeton’s self-destructive burnout culture and the University's academic intensity. Last March, 'Prince' columnist Leora Eisenberg penned an important article about how there is an unhealthy stigma that surrounds the notion of getting sufficient sleep at Princeton. I thoroughly concur with this sentiment. Many Princeton students feel erroneously inadequate if they admit to needing sleep, as if the idea of craving one of the most fundamental biological needs is a sign of weakness rather than good health. Therefore, I am unconvinced that sleep deprivation is solely the product of a heavy workload; of course, workloads are insane here, but we deprive ourselves of sleep not only because we are so busy but also because we feel like we should in order to prove our grit, diligence, and commitment to success.
This irrational and destructive stigma associated with normal amounts of sleep must be combatted through a combination of individual decision-making and institutional intervention. First, we should all try to make active choices that enhance the quality and consistency of our sleep. We should reevaluate the efficacy of staying up late to finish an assignment versus going to bed and completing the work in the morning, with a good night’s sleep achieved. Sometimes by just deciding to go to bed at 11 p.m. one night, despite a massive workload that awaits the next day, sleep-deprived students can start to get back on track and establish a healthier sleep routine.
Princeton, as an institution, also has an obligation to help its student body make more responsible decisions when it comes to sleep. Exposure to light has an adverse impact on our ability to achieve a healthy sleep routine. Hence, the University should seek to dim lighting in study spaces and dormitory hallways after midnight so that students are better able to fall asleep when they head back to their bedrooms. The University should also try to promote decaf beverage options to students, since caffeine, too, has an adverse effect on sleep. For instance, Witherspoon's should provide free decaf coffee after 8 p.m. to dissuade students from drinking caffeinated coffee too late.
All in all, consistently getting a good night’s sleep at Princeton takes discipline, creativity, and commitment. Likewise, the vicious cycle of sleep deprivation can be extraordinarily consuming. Nevertheless, we deserve better sleep, and we should not be afraid to achieve such a thing, as good sleep is a sign of healthful strength and self-care, and never a sign of weakness.
Samuel Aftel is a sophomore from East Northport, N.Y. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.