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The Nightly Princetonian: How Princeton students go to sleep

<h6>Elizabeth Medina / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Elizabeth Medina / The Daily Princetonian

It’s morning in Princeton. Students that live in dorms are probably familiar with the sound of a phone alarm from a nearby room. It could be a quiet chirp, or a blaring horn, laden with urgency. When night falls, one might come back to their dorm and see someone working on an assignment or a group returning from an event. By this time, some students may have already gone to bed; others may have decided not to sleep at all.

We spoke with seven students to learn about Princeton students’ wide range of experiences with sleep. Given that sleeping takes up a third of our lives, talking about sleep can give insights into the lives of Princeton students. Through stories, wishes, and opinions, I came to better understand our nightly routines on campus.

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The numbers

I began every interview by asking students about their typical bedtime, the amount of sleep they got on weekdays and on weekends. I noticed several patterns emerge from their responses.

Students reported a wide range of bedtimes for weekdays, the earliest being 10 p.m. and the latest 4 a.m. Similarly, the amount of sleep students received varied. The most a student slept was nine to ten hours per day, while the least was six hours.

Many students were able to get significantly more sleep on weekends. The most reported sleep per day was between nine and 10 hours again, but multiple students reported numbers closer to nine hours. Also, the least amount of sleep on a weekend was seven hours, up by an hour compared to weekdays.

A few students received consistent amounts of sleep throughout the week. These students tended to get more sleep overall, went to bed earlier, and expressed prioritizing a regular sleep schedule. Janum Shah ’23, a computer science major and ARCA for Whitman College, said, “Freshman year, I was not getting seven hours of sleep. I think it’s something that you have to very actively prioritize.”

Physical health 

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Many students reported exercising in the evenings. Some, like Shah, said they liked to go to the gym. Others, like mathematics major Austen Mazenko ’24, pursued other forms of exercise, like running, when they could not use the University’s facilities.

Students also mentioned skincare. Andrés de la Lama ’24 listed specific products such as Trader Joe's Enrich Moisturizing Face Lotion and Biretix Anti-Blemish Gel, while CEE concentrator Eva Jordan ’24 took a more relaxed approach.

“I just have random facial soap. I’m not that committed to my face,” Jordan said.

While many students engaged in self-care activities, they also admitted to taking part in what they thought were unhealthy habits in the evenings. Jordan mentioned consuming caffeine late at night.

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“One other bad thing is that sometimes I’ll drink coffee at Late Meal after dinner,” she said. Others, such as Windsor Nguyễn ’25, mentioned that they would skip meals at night when they were too busy.

Nguyễn is a contributing columnist for the ‘Prince.’

Recreation  

Students also reported taking part in a variety of recreational activities in the afternoon and evening. Some students enjoyed the outdoors. Jordan said she likes to sit in the Whitman courtyard.

Several interviewees also mentioned socializing to wind down. De la Lama said that spending time with friends helped him relax.

“I usually go to my friend’s dorm, and we kind of just chat and play music for a while. And when we decide that we’re both tired, we go to bed,” he said.

Many students told me that they liked to read before bed. Cy Orentlicher ’24 mentioned enjoying reading sci-fi.

“Currently I’ve been working through this book called ‘Red Mars.’ It’s a pretty hard sci-fi about a mission to colonize Mars. Fun times,” Orentlicher said. 

Orentlicher is a copy-editor for the ‘Prince.’

Janum was reading “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions we Have and the Breakthroughs we Need” but noted that it was not because of a preference for a specific genre. “I only read at night so I don’t go through books very quickly. Someone will recommend a book, or there was a book in class that I didn’t get to read,” he explained.

On top of reading, some Princetonians also said they enjoyed writing. De la Lama mentioned that he liked to write fiction. “I like to write stories. I’m an aspiring screenwriter, that’s kind of my thing,” he said.

Many students also reported consuming media before bed. Jordan enjoyed watching Hulu, while de la Lama was watching the Netflix show “Sex Education.” Nguyen sometimes went on movie marathons with his roommate, while Shah and Jairam Hathwar ’25 both mentioned watching videos online.

“I just scroll through YouTube videos sometimes. It helps keep your mind off whatever you’re thinking,” Hathwar said.

Several students brought up games and puzzles. Sometimes, these would be group activities. Nguyễn played pool with his friends, and Shah sometimes enjoyed a game of poker. Other times, students liked playing alone. Before bed, Mazenko often spends time working on crossword puzzles, expressing a fondness for the ones from The New York Times and the ‘Prince’. Orentlicher liked playing video games. At the time of our interview, Orentlicher was playing “Hollow Knight.”

Many Princeton students also combined physical activity and recreation at night by taking part in club and intramural athletics. Jordan and Mazenko are on the Ultimate Frisbee team, while Shah and Hathwar mentioned playing basketball.

“Recently I’ve been going to play pickup basketball around like 10:30 or 11. That’s every other day. I try to go at least two to three times a week for sure. That’s a good way to end the day,” Hathwar explained.

Wishes 

Despite the range of activities that students engaged in during the evenings, they also expressed the desire to do more. Almost all of the respondents said they wished they could read more. Jordan mentioned wanting to consume more fiction. “I feel like it’s a good way to come across new ideas,” she said.

Students also said that they wished they could spend more time on recreational activities. Nguyen said he wished he had more time in the evenings to learn an instrument. Shah brought up the constraints set by chilly weather.

“I wish I could do more activities outside, which I guess is more limited by the weather and not necessarily by the amount of time I have,” Shah said.

In response to a lack of time, some students reported sacrificing sleep for leisure.

“Usually, I didn’t get a break all day, and I feel like I deserve a break to watch TV or talk to friends. And the middle of the night is just the only time I have to do that,” Jordan said.

Princetonians also said they wanted more time to exercise.

“Normally in high school, I was able to go to bed by 11, but here the time I go to bed has definitely shifted, which is unfortunate because in high school I had a really good routine where I could get up in the morning and go to the gym. But here, to get the sleep that I want, it’s not feasible,” Hathwar said.

In general, students said they wanted more sleep but were split on the extent to which the University could help this. Mazenko emphasized personal time management as a key factor.

“I definitely want to fix my sleep schedule and get better. I think I do operate well enough on that many hours of sleep, but sometimes I’ll stay up late doing p-sets, and I probably could’ve budgeted my time better the day before,” he said.

Others, like Jordan, wondered if changes to policy could positively affect Princeton students’ sleep schedules.

“Part of me wants to say that p-sets shouldn’t be due at midnight, but another part of me would really hate that. I don’t know what the University could do because so much of it is personal time management,” she said. 

Advice 

At the end of every interview, I asked students to offer advice to fellow Princetonians about sleep. The most common advice students gave was to enforce a strict bedtime. “One thing I started doing recently is I set a timer at 3:30 telling me to go to bed because I tend to get caught up in conversations, just hanging out with people, that I often forget that I should probably go to bed,” said de la Lama.

In addition to enforcing a hard boundary, Orentlicher stressed the importance of listening to the body’s natural cues.

“If your body’s telling you that you need to go to sleep, go to sleep. Like I will freely admit that I have not had much of a nightlife this semester, but that’s just life,” Orentlicher said.

Nguyen expressed similar views. In his response, he referenced a popular adage. “I would say establish a routine so it’s easier to not stay up and remember the saying that ‘nothing exciting ever happens past midnight’ because most of the time, stuff we do after twelve can usually be done tomorrow or another time,” he said.

Students also reported using friends to keep themselves accountable. When asked how she gets up for her 8:30 a.m. classes, Jordan said that making breakfast plans was helpful.

“I wake up just early enough to get breakfast because I have pre arranged breakfast plans, but if I did not have that, I would definitely be getting up at like 8:10,” she explained.

However, students also recognized that peers could negatively affect their sleep. Hathwar said that he noticed a culture of sleep deprivation at Princeton.

“Some people pride themselves on having less sleep, I think, which is interesting. Obviously, I think sleep is incredibly important for functioning, but I think some people like, ‘oh man I’m still running on five hours of sleep today.’ And I noticed in general that people are always tired,” he said.

My main takeaway from the interviews was to make health a general priority. Shah spoke at length about learning to not feel bad taking breaks.

“I think a lot of kids, myself included, feel guilty sometimes for taking time off, or wanting a break, or doing something fun because everybody here is always working. You kind of have to recognize that it’s not a bad thing to take a break or give myself space,” he said.

For many Princeton students, the simple act of sleep comes with a balancing act involving personal wellbeing, academics, and recreation. Sometimes, these priorities overlap. Other times, they conflict. Finding an evening routine turns out to be a continual process, influenced by students’ desires and the broader pressures they face as college students.

Bert Lee is a Staff Writer for The Prospect who often covers music and artist profiles. He can be reached at alberthl@princeton.edu.

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