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Sleepless at Notre Dame

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Is a power nap preferable to a good night’s sleep for you? Do you wish there were 30 hours in a day? Have you ever noticed that more sleep makes you groggy? I sure do. Since high school, sleep depravation has been more than a circumstance; it is a way of life. The demands of school, extracurriculars and recreation make finding time to sleep remote. Thus I am wondering, is it possible to suck the marrow out of life without passing out on the floor?

Try as I might to convince myself, there is nothing great about sleep depravation. Sleep debt is linked to health disorders ranging from heart problems, metabolism damage and mental problems. Sleeping replenishes our physical and mental attributes. Without enough sleep, we falter in our ability to remember, process information, articulate thoughts properly and other vital functions for scholarship and life.

Studies state that for our age group, six to nine hours of sleep is healthy – most settling on a figure of eight hours a night. However, with a full class load and even fuller study and social life, fitting in eight hours consistently seems like a foolish proposition. For myself, I cannot remember the last time I had eight hours of sleep for more than two days in a row. Some weeks, I put myself on a sleep routine of four hours a night to maximize my work output.

I think the problem that students like myself have – besides not having the time to sleep – is being in love with not sleeping. The euphoria of being productive, feeling awake and rested after a meager three hours of sleep and being able to accomplish every task in a day is irresistible. Sometimes my friends and I compare our sleep debt trying outdo each other. The “race to the bottom” of who can get the most done with the least amount of sleep is a battle for laughs and respect. Unfortunately, it is also a lifestyle headed for disaster.

Another key component of the 24-hour student is stimulation. The only reason I started to drink coffee was its sleep-abating effects. Having one to two units of caffeine is the recommended maximum for daily intake, but for over-active students, that isn’t nearly enough. For myself, now an avid coffee drinker, I find the time before my first cup incredibly difficult to handle. Also, with a shortage of flex points and no time to make my own brew – I get my coffee whenever I can. So that means every time I go to the dining hall and most times when I walk by Starbucks and Waddicks.

The sleepless life – glamorized by its rareness and intensity – cannot be the only way to be productive. Yet, college life facilitates such behaviors with its rigorous demands and variety of activities. I see the roots of over-activity and involvement in our formative quests for identity, needs for prestige and anxiety over entering the work force.

We are all trying to find our place in the world. While in our college microcosm world, the easy way to express your ideas, passions and energy is through activities. Liking or feeling something in isolation seems small and reminiscent of hiding your light under a bushel. Also, we relate to people more easily by rattling off activities. Being in Peace Co or Right to Life means more than an activity here – it is a personality window and source of identity on campus. This method of self-discovery and relating has many flaws. The breakdown in person-to-person communication combined with the devaluation of self-reflection creates the conditions for over- activity. Many, myself included, speak in generalizations and rules rather than telling our stories and sharing reflections. We shirk at letting people in if we do not have to.

As for needing acclaim and nervousness over job prospects, we should not let those pressures get in the way of having a great college life. Getting the most out of intellectual pursuits and our community here should take precedence over the life beyond. We have the rest of our lives to work, worry about jobs, love work and wish we did not have to work. College should be a time to really get to know yourself and a few key friends around you. Building lasting and teaching relationships should be our goal – not racking up a daunting list of accomplishments.

For your comfort, I am writing this stacking my sleep debt like a set of prized crystal ornaments, marveling at my ability to do schoolwork, a column and a host of activities each day. No one, especially me, has the answers, but if we start talking about our lives focusing especially the unhealthy parts maybe we can find a better way to live, grow and form community.

Kamaria Porter is a junior history major. Her column appears every other Wednesday. She can be contacted at kporter@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this culumn are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.