Omrod: Sleep it Off, Dartmouth

We’re stressed and depressed, but with a solid résumé to impress?

by Madeline Omrod | 1/25/18 1:15am

My sophomore summer, I took a class taught by the wonderful professor Michael Sateia called Psychology 50.04, “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” The thesis of the class? Sleep matters. It matters a lot more than we think it does. It affects everything we do — our mood, our cognition, our digestion, our movement. Sleep impacts just about every area of our lives. The great irony of the class? Our professor drilled us on the importance of sleep for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday, but the grand majority of the class was clearly not getting enough sleep. They would roll into class exhausted and lethargic, trying to stay awake on little more than caffeine and pure determination.

The lack of healthy sleeping habits among Dartmouth students became obvious to me very early on. During freshman spring, my roommate would often go to bed around 5:30 a.m. and still wake up in time for her 9L at 8:45 a.m. This happened regularly. I know many fellow juniors who slept as little as my roommate did. If you know me, you know I respect the hell out of sleep. I was getting a solid eight to nine hours a night, and I felt like a freak. Why did nobody in college sleep?

Sleep isn’t the only thing students sacrifice in an academically rigorous environment like Dartmouth’s. I know people who regularly skip meals to maximize studying. At a school where midterms can occur almost non-stop from week two to week nine, this adds up. My first term at school, my weekly two-hour Sunday Foco brunches with friends were one of the few things that kept me sane in the midst of the crazy new adventure of college. But as time went on, these sacred, magnificent meals where my friends and I could be crazy and weird and young together happened less and less. To my chagrin, we started to recognize the need to prioritize our time for schoolwork. And we were not the only ones — I cannot tell you how many times I have overheard people cut a conversation with friends short because they “really should be studying right now.”

This past fall term, there was a lovely “Day of Peace” vigil held on the Green to mourn the recent tragedies that have been happening across the world. In a school of about 4,000 undergraduate students, maybe 30 students attended the vigil. Why were the numbers so low? My guess is that people were studying in the library or doing things they needed to get done just to keep up with their never-ending lists of obligations. People want to do well at this school so badly that they neglect important opportunities for deep human connection. And we wonder why people feel so depressed and anxious.

I do not fault the students here who sacrifice the most basic necessities like food and sleep in order to succeed. The truth is, I have often become this kind of person myself. But I want to ask the question: Is it worth it? What is the point of this self-sacrifice if the lifestyles we lead in college make us so stressed and unhealthy that we become depressed and anxious? College is supposed to be a time to explore ourselves and the world around us. How can we do that if we are so tired and stressed that we barely have time to chat with our friends in the KAF line?

To counteract this pattern of stress and self neglect, we must let go of the expectations we placed on ourselves during our days as overachieving nerds in high school. It is okay to have a less than perfect GPA. It is okay not to intern for a senator every summer — it is okay to work at your favorite ice cream place by the beach instead. We are young, and life is long. If you spend your whole life fixated on the next thing on your to-do list, you will miss out on the really great moments, like sitting next to your best friends on the Green in the sun drinking iced tea and smiling, or spending three hours laughing with your mom at Lou’s even though you (might) have a big biology midterm in two days. As the ever wise Albus Dumbledore once said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

So I urge you to take some revolutionary steps toward happiness. First, sleep. Sleep provides an incredible chance to escape from life’s stresses and let one’s body repair and recharge. Second, put your phone away. Shut it off, throw it out the window, just do not look at it for a few hours. Focus on living in the present, and you will be amazed at how free you can feel when you’re away from the annoyances of a smart phone. Finally, be kind to yourself. Accept where you are today, and know that perfection is unattainable. Try your best, but do not forget to take care of yourself. Always take time to do things that make your soul feel good.

Practicing these simple steps might not lead to a perfectly pristine résumé. But the truth is, when you’re 80 years old and sitting on your front porch reflecting on your life, you definitely won’t be thinking about your “terrible” college GPA.

Omrod is a member of the Class of 2019.

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