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January 10, 2013

A state of unrest

Consider the value of all you do in terms of the life-altering sleep it will cost you.

Now, it is winter. We’re all freshly returned from a break which ideally consisted of at least enough rest and relaxation to make the next 11 weeks seem like a sensible endeavor.

I, for one, just spent three solid weeks sleeping like a baby. Really, “like a baby” doesn’t even do it justice: A family member who I’m reasonably sure is still in diapers pulled me aside at a Christmas party to tell me she knew what I was going through, and to stay strong.

While I did appreciate the solidarity (and the helpful tips about teething), I knew deep down that there was no need to worry. As a direct result of getting sufficient sleep over break, my life was so much more enjoyable than it had been in the previous few weeks. I woke up feeling refreshed, energetic, alert, and able to live my life with a gusto I hadn’t had since about halfway through last quarter. I glided around the streets of Las Vegas feeling almost too aware of everything happening around me, feeling more capable of taking it in. And I owed it all to getting eight or more hours of sleep a night. (Now maybe it wasn’t a controlled experiment, and all the not-finals I had to do certainly didn’t hurt, but I stand by my claim.)

It was great while it lasted, is what I’m saying. But that’s not all I’m saying. As I unpacked my things after once again arriving in Chicago, I realized that, in my suitcase of tightly packed clothes, I’d also managed to squeeze in most of the good sleep I’d be getting for all of winter quarter.

A pile of papers left on my desk from last quarter reminded me that things are about to get real; that my prolonged respite really was just a respite; that all I’d done was spend three weeks filling up a reservoir of rest only to spend the next three months completely draining it. Now is when I begin to act out the experimental one-man play that I always put on in real time when I’m here—in which a guy, having been bitten by a zombie, undergoes the slowest transformation to undead-hood in recorded history.

And the funny thing is, there are always a lot of people doing the same thing. I could call them plagiarists, but I won’t. Instead, I’d like to point out how absurd it is for a small society of over a thousand young people in the prime of their lives to willingly wave goodbye to their full potential as beings merely by -neglecting sleep. For three whole months, too.

This little world of ours is one in which it is totally acceptable to talk about sleep like it’s some sort of rare and vastly depleted resource, like diamonds or French Toast Crunch. Nineteen year-olds walk out of their dorms and apartments with irrepressible swagger and a seeming need to sigh contentedly every five seconds after getting a whole six hours of sleep, which you’ll notice is clinically not enough. They’re gonna brag to their friends about those six hours like they won a Daytime Emmy. (Just Daytime. I don’t want to exaggerate.)

Doesn’t that worry you, reader? Isn’t that insane? We’re talking about sleep here, a thing whose bounty is prerequisite to your capability to flourish as a living organism. As the quarter progresses and your bedtime grows ever more shameful, you become a standing human rights violation to yourself. In the past, I’ve caught myself saying horrifyingly positive things about getting a less-than-horrendous amount of sleep for precisely one night in a row. Things like, “It was friggin’ sweet,” or, “Shit was cash.” Yeah—“Shit was cash.” Ridiculous. You’re only supposed to say that about, like, mouth stuff.

At this point, I suppose I should give you some dopey tips about how to make a full dose of sleep—a full seven-to-niner—possible night after night. But I will not; I know that this would constitute a series of hopeless pleas and impossible asks. For example, I couldn’t in good conscience recommend that anyone cut down on the time they spend on the Myface or Readit or any other web zones, not least because I google on those as much as anyone. Casually stalking acquaintances and looking at pictures of cats as they make this or that face are more immediately entertaining than, let’s say, homework, and I mean that sincerely.

So, rather than ask you to do something as implausible and unwise as further extracting fun from your life, I’ll ask you to really consider the true importance of every “important” thing you spend your time on. Those things—the class work, the RSOs, the internships—are the real culprits behind sleep deprivation. We focus on them with an intensity that is so often driven by our expectations, and vague notions of what they might one day lead to or bring.

But I implore you to take a moment to consider the intrinsic enrichment each such endeavor confers upon you. After all, that’s exactly what you lose out on when you burn the midnight oil on the daily: You know full well that everything you experience and every feeling you feel becomes less amazing than they could be when you drag your feet through life. Shouldn’t you be able to walk away from something in order to avoid that?

I, personally, am not. Even after having these thoughts, I have no intention of surrendering a single one of my responsibilities. But that’s only because I love them; they make my life wonderful; I know that they’re worth it. If you choose the same path I have, all I ask is for you to make damn sure that you really, truly feel the same way.

Ajay Batra is a second-year in the College majoring in English.

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