From a student who wrote this at 3 a.m
It’s the first week of the semester and I’m going to be lucky to get even two hours of sleep tonight. I know that in the morning I will blearily crave rest to the point it becomes a distraction, but that doesn’t stop me from staying up. I want to write this article and this is the only time I have.
College students are a pretty savvy population. We largely understand the dangers of a lack of sleep, but we also accept it as part of being a student. You might not have known that a survey by the National Sleep Association found that 55 percent of drowsy driving accidents involve people under the age of 25, or that being awake for 24 hours impairs your cognitive functions equivalent to the drunkest you can get without dying, but it probably isn’t shocking. Being awake for so long should not be a source of pride. That feeling is symptomatic of an unhealthy culture, where free time is an indulgence and being able to maintain your health is a joke.
I blame Thomas Edison. It’s one of the few things I give him credit for. The invention and propagation of electric light bulbs, patented (but not solely invented) by Edison, gave birth to the 24-hour workforce. Now that people could see clearly without the sun, they could stay up later, and stay up working. It changed the game at a time when laborers were profoundly exploitable. Profits were prioritized over treating workers humanely, and that philosophy echoes in the age of smartphones.
It’s almost as if we are numb to the time demands of undergraduate culture, and I think it’s because for many of us, we see this extending into our early careers.
Hospital workers and medical students in residency are in for long and late shifts. Many startups hire young people because they are less wary of putting lots of their time into a potentially unstable company and are flexible to working weird hours. There are media jobs where 24/7 standby is expected. We are preparing for work that follows us around in our pockets, not confined to offices, training to put our well-being at low priority if we want both a career and a social life.
It is easy to wear an all-nighter like a badge, for your default state to be “tired,” or to use mutual sleeplessness as tinder for conversation, and it’s fine. The causes of those late nights will not let up in the near future, and we need to learn how to cope with them. But sleep deprivation is a widespread problem, and in order to address it we need to take care of ourselves in the moment while examining why our society allows this to happen.
Until then, I need to get to bed.