Freshmen 8: is it really possible?
The freshmen eight. No, it's not the couple of extra pounds that first-years gain in their first two semesters at college. The freshmen eight is the goal, the dream that all students aspire to in their college years: the quest to get eight hours of sleep every night.
Only two weeks into school and already it seems that sleep deprivation is kicking in across the campus. Students are strolling into 9 a.m. class with dark circles under their eyes and Red Bulls in hand, trying desperately to make it through the day. Some have already resorted to daily naps in an attempt to curb their drowsiness and make it through the night, while others have cut breakfast out of their morning schedule to get a little extra sleep.
Reality has hit for students here on the Hill. As we leave our summer sleep schedules behind and switch gears for another semester, many of us are already feeling the effects of the drastic change.
"During the summer I get nearly 10 hours of sleep a night," Carla Aronsohn '13 said. "But when I'm here I'm lucky if I'm getting six hours on a regular basis."
She's not the only one. Many students admit they rarely get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night, and instead seem to settle for only five or six.
While cutting out sleep may seem like the only option when facing an intimidating pile of homework, doing so poses serious health risks. A website devoted to curbing sleep deprivation, lackofsleep.com, reports that the most common sleep deprivation symptoms are "tiredness, blurred vision, activity intolerance, irritability, edginess, vague discomfort, alterations in appetite, inability to tolerate stress, frequent infections, problems with concentration and memory and behavior, learning or social problems." These symptoms kick in when a person is getting less than eight hours of sleep a night.
So what's causing students to get less than the desirable amount of sleep? While many point to homework as the main culprit, others complain that the college setting-friends, late-night snacking, parties, movies and computer games-are the activities that inadvertently take up several hours of students' time each day.
"It's so easy to stay up way too late, mostly because there are so many distractions like homework and roommates. It makes it really hard to go to bed early," Luke Bowe '13 said. "The opportunity cost of sleeping is too high."
Nathan Katsiaficas '12 pointed to the stress of homework as the main contributor to his insufficient sleep schedule. "If I am lucky, I sleep around five hours tops during the week and pull multiple 'all-nighters' a week. I've noticed the number of those all-nighters has increased since my freshmen year, but it's the only way I can really feel prepared before a test or finish a paper."
According to an article from Science Daily, multiple studies have revealed that the more all-nighters a student pulls, the lower his or her grade point average becomes. Despite the danger of all-nighters, many find it the only solution during high stress periods.
The need for pulling an all-nighter does not appear to be exclusive to any one major. For every mathematics or physics major staying up late to complete a problem set there is an English or history major struggling to finish a ten-page paper.
While students on the Hill are often praised for their commitment to excel in multiple areas of college life-academics, athletics, work and extra-curricular activities-this drive to take on more than they can handle is causing students to compromise the numbers of hours they sleep.
"Two weeks into the school year I'm already drained," Dash Wasserman '12 said. "Between classes, homework, my jobs at both the bookstore and the Echo and my social life I feel like I'm always running on empty."
Some students have found ways to balance their schedules and repair the damage done by a sleepless night. Leah Perlmutter '12 balances her nights with only six hours of sleep with others closer to the full eight hours, and frequently takes afternoon naps.
"I take daytime power naps fairly often, at least once a week, often a few times a week." I set an alarm for 12-18 minutes, lay down and breathe deeply. I don't feel like I'm entirely asleep during the nap; I can usually hear what's going on around me for the whole time. But when the alarm goes off, I open my eyes and realize I actually was asleep. I usually wake up refreshed," said Perlmutter.
The truth is that sleep deprivation can cause serious long-term health effects more severe than feeling groggy the next day. "Beyond leaving people bleary-eyed, clutching a Starbucks cup and dozing off at afternoon meetings, failing to get enough sleep or sleeping at odd hours heightens the risk for a variety of major illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity," the Washington Post reported.
The key to achieving the mythical eight hours of sleep is to crack down on procrastination and to stick to a clear schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day allows your body to adapt to a routine, so sleeping in on the weekends can sometimes do more harm than good. Limiting social distractions, such as cell phones, instant messenger, Facebook and Twitter after a certain time (like 10 p.m.) can save a large amount of time. Regular exercise also helps students get the proper amount of sleep and allows students to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The most important thing to watch out for is caffeine intake; it can stay in the body's system for up to 10 hours, so limiting caffeinated beverages after 2 p.m. can allow the body to go to sleep faster and have a higher quality sleep.
So is it possible to achieve the freshmen eight? Certainly. By sticking to a tight schedule, budgeting free time and avoiding distractions, students on the Hill can get the sleep they need.