It’s 4am. You have spent the last three hours staring blankly at your computer screen trying to throw together some random ideas on some past reading from a distant corner of your brain, in the hope that a completed essay will manage to compile itself in front of you. You also have an 8:30 lecture. The biggest debate of your life ensues: Do you give up and crawl to your lecture on four hours sleep or do you grab another coffee and a kitkat and power through before crashing at 9:30 after your lecture?
For most people this predicament is not a common one, but for the students of Exeter this appears to be an almost weekly occurrence. Coupled with an increasing workload, a mountain of reading to do, socials, societies, CVs and jobs to find as well as cooking, cleaning, shopping and general hygiene to fit in. Something in our busy lives has to budge. Unfortunately, the thing that most students are letting slip is sleep. We all know that you should have eight hours sleep a night and that a lack of sleep is suggested to cause everything from obesity, acne to heart disease and death (in the extreme cases). So why do we let our sleeping patterns become crazy and erratic in the first place?
Before I came to Exeter this September, I had mostly always managed to get my eight hours of sleep. I was an early riser and generally a morning person. I never took naps and generally was well-rested and liked my sleep. I rarely drank caffeinated drinks and maybe only had the odd one to get me through exams, but I didn’t rely on caffeine. In the last six weeks my entire schedule has been thrown up in the air and dragged through a hedge backwards. I now fail to remember the last time I got six hours of solid sleep. I don’t remember not having at least one nap a day and it has got to the stage where I would generally trade all of my earthly possessions for a good eight hours of restful sleep. I do not remember the last time I was awake for breakfast (which is my favorite meal of the day!) at the weekends compared to having never slept past nine before arriving at uni. In fact, if it wasn’t for 8:30 lectures I doubt I would have woken up before midday in the last six weeks. I mean, who needs sleep when we have coffee right?
So why did the University decide that it was a good idea to throw in 8:30 lectures to students when they are already aware that students notoriously keep a strange, unusual and often pathetic sleeping pattern? Are they trying to tire us out even more? If it has been scientifically proven that adolescent brains do not learn productively before 10am then surely it is pointless to make us listen to lectures at a time that often feels like it is 4am.
Then there is the social problems of having no sleeping consistency. I cannot remember the last time I attended a lecture where no one fell asleep. It doesn’t matter what time the lecture is. Be it 8:30, 1:30 or 5:30 someone’s eyes are always visibly drooping, someone is always slouched over the table drooling and someone is always snoring heavily in the corner.
Having never fallen asleep in the first thirteen years of my academic career, I now also frequently find myself having to be elbowed by the person next to me to stay awake and I often find that unless I am buzzing from caffeine that my eyes will start drooping and the lecture slides will start to tumble into nap world. I hate to be rude to the lecturers as it is (usually) not their fault that I am struggling to stay awake. It is the timetables fault. University students are famous the world over for not being morning people, so why do our timetables alter our natural sleeping patterns?
For those of you lucky enough to have reading week this week (mine is mostly filled with a fieldtrip that will undoubtly alter my strange sleeping patterns further) please make getting into a sleeping pattern a priority. Use the week to actually go to bed before 2am occasionally, and however impossible it seems, try to avoid napping. For those of you without a reading week please do your best to also follow this advice. If you are all even half as shattered as I am by week six then we need to actually start getting eight hours of sleep (or at least more than five) a night to make it through the rest of the year.
Also let’s try and reduce our coffee consumption (even though I think coffee is my one true love). As much it hurts me to say, I really do think that until the University realises the ridiculousness of our timetables, we have to be the ones to alter our caffeine intake and to try and regulate our sleeping patterns the best we can. Then we can all work hard and play hard without crashing out from exhaustion (fingers crossed). After all university is about learning not only a degree subject, but also learning to independently function and survive, and until we actually work on sleeping properly, regularly and well, most of us will continue to turn increasingly nocturnal.