This is part of my Blog Post Series: How To Thrive As An Adult
Sleep deprivation is an illegal torture method outlawed by the Geneva Convention and international courts, but most of us do it to ourselves.
— Ryan Hurd
In college, I had terrible sleep habits. I naively enrolled in morning classes, stayed up past 1 a.m., and thought I’d be just fine.
In my first semester, I signed up for Honors Chemistry. It met five days a week at 8:00 a.m. and was intended for chemistry majors (Which I was not!). The demanding course work, weekly lab, and coupled with my lack of sleep, were grueling.
You’d think I would learn my lesson after the first semester.
I made matters worse with loads of junk food. Gummy bears, cheap pizza, and microwavables were bedtime staples. Eating late disrupted my sleep and led to weight gain, which further messed with my sleep. And the more tired I felt the more food I ate.
And much of the time, I didn’t feel well. My ability to reason, remember lessons, and recall facts for exams declined thanks to sleep deprivation. I also had little motivation to study. What’s the point, if I’m going to forget everything in 10 minutes?
I compounded the issue by selecting a demanding major: Computer Science. As a result, I muddled through my coursework in a stupor.
I remember my physics course on electromagnetism, and thinking, Why is this so hard for me to understand? I should have been able to grasp the material quickly — I had an excellent instructor and always attended lectures.
Six days a week, I slogged and struggled. But only six. On Saturdays, everything changed. Everything became 10X easier.
Turns out, I had no morning obligations on Saturdays. No classes. No study groups. No church services. I slept until my body was ready to wake up (usually around noon), and woke up refreshed!
On those days, I got up and headed over to the food court for lunch, with a textbook and homework in tow. I sat there, eating my burger & fries (more junk food!), and marveled at how my comprehension had skyrocketed. On more than one occasion I thought, Man, all my classes would be a lot easier if I just got enough sleep.
I didn’t internalize that lesson until long after I graduated.
My bad habits led to a compromised immune system. I contracted pneumonia during my third year. The following year I exhibited all of the symptoms of mononucleosis: extreme fatigue, fever, and sore throat. I tested negative for mono, and the doctors had no idea what exactly I had. The fever left after a couple weeks, but the fatigue lingered for three months.
It was rough.
Looking back, I wish I had gone to bed at a reasonable time. I wish I had ignored my FOMO (i.e., fear of missing out). I wish I had ignored the social diktats that govern college-life and turned off the lights by 9 p.m.
In my dormitory, there was a guy who actually did this: every night he went to bed at 9 p.m. (He also downed a dose of NyQuil, to drown out the noise, which I don’t recommend.) I didn’t know him well, and my roommate made fun of him for going to bed early, but my life would have been so much better if I had followed suit.
In the fifteen years since, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons, not the least of which is: make sleep a priority. It’s taken a lot of trial and error, but I developed a reliable system for getting enough sleep. (Going to bed at a reasonable time is just the beginning!)
So, try it out! Make sleep a priority. Your mind will thank you, and your life will be better.
Be well, my friend.