Does sleep fit into life at Mount Holyoke?

BY SHILOH FREDERICK '17

“I always tell my friends that I wish I could be a vampire,” said Janice Jiang ’19, “because vampires don’t need sleep.” 

Now in her second year at Mount Holyoke, Jiang has found a technique that allows her to get around the mere mortal’s need for slumber, while supposedly maximizing her productivity. She calls the technique “splitting up [her] sleep.” “If I get five or six hours to sleep today,” Jiang explained, “I would do three [hours] at night and do three [hours] in the afternoon instead of sleeping six hours [straight].” This way, she technically gets six hours of sleep without spending a long chunk of time being unproductive. Although Jiang claims that her sleeping method is similar to the one used by polymath Leonardo Da Vinci, she does not recommend this lifestyle to anyone else. “I don’t think right now my living schedule is really healthy,” she said.

Jiang’s friend Julia Godinez ’17 agrees. A follower of holistic medicine and regimented lifestyles, Godinez believes that sleep is essential, especially for a college student. “I’ve never pulled an all-nighter being a senior in college with two majors. Absolutely not,” she said. “I think you can manage a healthy sleep schedule and not pull all-nighters.” 

Although Mount Holyoke students in general may not be as polar in their sleeping habits as Jiang and Godinez are, it appears that students are divided when it comes to prioritizing sleep.  The American College Health Association’s 2016 National College Health Assessment of Mount Holyoke College found that 44.4 percent of students feel fully rested for two days or fewer out of the week. The survey also showed that despite a clear lack of rest for some students, the campus is split on how much of a problem having a lack of sleep poses in their lives: 52.1 percent of students surveyed said that sleepiness poses little to no problem for their daytime activities, while for 47.9 percent of students sleepiness ranges from ‘more than a little problem’ to ‘a very big problem’ in their lives.

For Mount Holyoke’s coordinator of health education Karen Jacobus, the percentage of people reporting that they are not getting an adequate amount of sleep is cause for concern. “The four hours of sleep, the all-nighters, somehow people feel like that’s what they need to be doing, when in fact, that’s not the path to success. People are not doing their best work when they function from that place.” Jacobus continued, “We need to create a culture of encouraging healthy habits.” 

Many students, however, don’t blame Mount Holyoke itself for creating a culture of unhealthy sleeping habits. Instead, students view sleep as something that can be compromised when faced with pressure from their other commitments. According to Francis Perkins scholar Ellerie Ballard ’18, “[Sleep is] a priority, but I only get as much as I can get in relation to how much work I need to do.” Yvonne Tran ’20 shares a similar view, “I think that I’m trying to make [sleep] a priority in my life, but it’s not. I think studying is more of a priority, and passing exams and all that.” Nonetheless, Tran, as well as several other students, admitted that they perform better academically when they feel well-rested. “When I do get more sleep, I feel more energized in the day, happier in the day; therefore, I’m able to get through my classes [and] really understand the concepts. But, like today, when I only had maybe six to seven hours of sleep, although I was paying attention in class, I was still drifting.”

This doesn’t surprise Jacobus. “I think if you can pull out and look at some of the research on sleep and what we know in terms of sleep it’s the critical factor. It’s the thing that will make everybody successful because when you’re well-rested your body will be able to do all the things that you’re asking it to do, and from an academic perspective, it will be the way that you nourish your brain the best.” 

While studies from the University of Michigan and Ghent University have proven that getting more than six hours of sleep per night results in better academic performances for college students, there is a dearth of studies that decode the relationship between getting a healthy amount of sleep and having a healthy social life. Five out of the nine students informally surveyed ranked their social life higher than getting enough sleep; however, when they were asked to defend their rankings, students admitted that they made decisions between sleep and their social life on a case by case basis. 

For Abena Sekyere ’19, making a choice between going out with friends or getting rest depends on the event. “If the event is a Christian event I would choose it over sleep. But if it’s a party, no. A talk, no. Even if it’s for extra credit, no. I need to sleep,” Sekyere said.

Unforgettable experiences outweigh a full night’s rest for students like Emily Stewart ’19. “It would be alright for me to be a little tired the next day if I had to have a really memorable experience,” Stewart said. “But if I had something very important going on the next day, then sleep would come before social life.”

However, some students are willing to put their social life on hold until they achieve their loftier goals. According to Elyse Tunkelrott ’20, “I don’t need a social life if I have enough sleep. Honestly, I can deal with social lives after I get my good grades and enough sleep, when I get my successful job and smash the patriarchy.”

Balancing schoolwork, social life and sleep may only be temporary in a college setting, but some students view the way they prioritize sleep now as a set-up for the rest of their lives. “Considering that I’m going to be going into somewhere where generally I’m working [from] nine to five, I believe that my sleep habits will mostly carry over [after college],” Sarah Robinson ’17 said. “Considering that I will not be doing homework and I don’t intend to allow my work to overflow outside of work hours, I will probably actually end up having better sleep habits because there will be more of a work/ life division.” 

As person who struggles with maintaining healthy sleeping habits, Nicole Annunziata ’17 is not as optimistic. “Sleep deprivation is eternal,” she said. “I think it’s just a byproduct of my own work habits, which I don’t think will cease to exist as I age because it’s been this way for as long as I can possibly remember.” Further prolonging her struggles with sleep, Annunziata is considering a career in academia, so her college routine may never end.

Jacobus, however, believes that while students are still at Mount Holyoke, there is still time to change their outlook towards sleep before they enter a working world that has become increasingly fast-paced. “I think we’re in a culture that’s 24/7. It’s the world we’re operating in and that’s not going to change … but I think we still have this capacity here on campus to create a different culture than we have right now that really supports people taking care of themselves,” she said. “There’s a couple things that we can do that can really be instrumental and make a difference in terms of how we then manage all the rest of our stuff and sleep is definitely one of those pieces. So get some sleep! That’s my message.”

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