Ask someone how they’re feeling and you are most likely to be met with a response along the lines of ‘tired’, ‘shattered, ‘exhausted’ or knackered’. Whatever the variation of the feeling, the root cause is the same lack of sleep . Ask anyone how many hours shut eye they got last night and the number is most certainly less than the eight and a half recommended for young adults.
It’s quite alarming for young people to feel this way. University students should not be feeling weary as if they are eighty as opposed to eighteen. We are chronically tired, though in a twisted sort way we feel like we revel in it. We freely admit our exhaustion to those who will listen in a way we wouldn’t do with any other ailment . We relish in telling our friends about our sleep deprivation like it’s a badge of honour.
If there’s one thing we shouldn’t be bragging about, it actively impairing our judgment and cognitive ability. It is as if the work we do when stressed and mentally drained is somehow more respected or of better quality. Spoiler alert: it’s not
Whether its inanely scrolling through your phone till 3am, dancing at the club till 4 am, essay crisis till 5 am or best of all, ‘the all-nighter’ the realities of student life mean we just aren’t getting enough sleep. The sight of sitting next to someone in a lecture, still jittering from their last espresso, is all too familiar to most of us.
As much as we may convince ourselves this is an “Oxford problem”, sadly it is everywhere and will unfortunately follow us long after we graduate. Many of the careers and internships we aspire to will similarly steal us away from the well needed rest we want and deserve. We will be surrounded by people who leave the office after midnight, and return the next morning for eight, and casually act like it is what a sensible modern workplace demands of us.
Of course, we are all guilty of the occasional late night. Sometimes things need to be done for a deadline, or we want to stay till Mr. Brightside comes on. Sometimes you have 4-month-old crying infant to feed, in which case you truly do have a good reason to feel tired— nourishing human life is of course exhausting. What I do object to is the relentless lack of sleep we subject ourselves to for no good reason. We leave ourselves feeling nauseated the next day, anxious, and almost certainly less capable of doing work. As much as we may want it to, four hours sleep does not make us better versions of ourselves.
The first signs of sleep deprivation are being grumpy, irritable and impatient. Most people feel on edge or emotional after an all- nighter. This tiredness builds up week after week, all the while you are unknowingly damaging your immune system. Granted that most won’t be facing life threatening illness, but this is just one of the reasons, colds, fevers and flus take longer to go away at Oxford than at home.
This culture of ‘sleep deprivation one upmanship’ has been recognised by Arianna Huffington in her book ‘The Sleep Revolution’. After collapsing from exhaustion and waking up in a pool of her own blood, Huffington began to extoll the benefits of shut eye. She questions the long accepted belief that we must burn ourselves out in order to achieve something. This greatly differs from the listicles we read about where successful people are supposed to wake up at 4:30 am, hit the gym, drink a smoothie, do some reading whilst also checking the stock market. Holding ourselves to the standards to Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffet will only ever end in disappointment.
Another part of our lives which prevents us from unwinding is technology. Electronic devices emit blue light which supresses melatonin levels, making it much harder to fall asleep. Late night Instagram stalking is not conducive to a restful night. When we have so much connectivity in our hands, it also creates a sense that there is more to do and see. Checking the news, emails and messages compulsively can become a never-ending habit.
People often defend their choices by saying “there’s only 24 hours in a day- I want to make the most of it by doing everything I can”. If we are getting those solid eight hours however, we stand to make the other 16 so much better. Unsurprisingly, life has a better quality when you aren’t miserable and sick
A busy lifestyle especially the kind we have in these short eight-week terms, leaves us trying to micromanage our lives- scheduling and allotting time for everything and everyone. FOMO dogs our experience at Oxford. There’s always a feeling that we are not making the most of our privileged position and the opportunities presented to us. There’s so much to do from rowing, music, sport, drama, student politics, clubbing, *cough* student journalism, dating, volunteering, all while we are apparently meant to be applying for internships. You can’t conceivably juggle all these things- no one can. So by giving some of them a miss you aren’t committing a cardinal sin, you’re just admitting that you are a human.
So why not put your phone on airplane mode or at least ignore some of those swollen group chats and make some time for yourself. Even if its mere twenty minutes, it’ll leave you feeling less frazzled. Also learn how to say no to the commitments you just aren’t feeling up to.
In short, most of our exhaustion comes from guilt. A guilt that we are not doing enough for others, for our work and social life. But in truth, most people are not doing enough for their wellbeing. If we are to change this cycle, we need to remember to put our health first. So go ahead, close your laptop, then your eyes, and get the rest your body needs.