Early lectures lead to Zombie-itis

By Cam Cotton-O’Brien

By the time Tuesday rolls around my bedtime has been slipping later and later for five days. It is the second earliest day of the week and, the earliest being Wed., Tue. hits the hardest. The problem is compounded and exacerbated by having a class I am required to function well in that morning. As such, this weekly exhaustion not only drastically increases coffee expenditures for the day, it also jeopardizes academic performance. Chances are, you know exactly how I feel.

It is generally accepted that seven to eight hours of sleep per night are required for an adult to function at optimal level. And no, you aren’t supposed to split it into chunks in the night and afternoon (Southern Europe apparently excluded). Actually, it is suggested that, though naps can have a positive effect for a person, their duration should be kept to only 20 or 30 minutes, thus limiting the problem of getting so much sleep in the afternoon that sleeping at night becomes unmanageable. In addition, it is suggested that when a person does fall short of the requisite amount of sleep, they enter into a sleep debt which needs to be paid at some point. All very well, you say, but what of it?

Studies conducted in 2002 by the UCSD medical school demonstrated through MRI scanning that the way your brain functions when you are deprived of sleep is visibly different. They found the brain operated in altered ways amongst subjects who were rested and those who were sleepy. Different portions of the brain were activated in the opposing groups of subjects, leading to the belief that the brain was compensating for the lack of rest. Interesting, indeed, but sleep deprivation is not only obvious with expensive medical equipment. What’s more troubling is other studies have found the ability of a person to drive is greatly affected by their level of exhaustion. An individual having been awake for 17 to 18 hours demonstrated less driving proficiency than a person with a blood alcohol level of 0.5 per cent.

Students as a group are closely associated with sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep often leads to irritability, diminished cognitive function, and erosion of memory recall. Obviously, this is no good for individuals whose primary duty at the university demands the proper functioning of precisely these traits. The student lifestyle is largely to blame. Early classes, outrageous amounts of reading, a distressing number of words to be hammered out for academic papers, financial worries, romantic troubles, romantic successes, cold weather, colds, cold medication, cold drinks from broken microwaves failing to warm the milk, and cold editors demanding copy all conspire to keep students awake. This is not all.

While you may not believe it, coffee is not the only substance responsible for stealing your rest. Alcohol, too, is to blame. Contrary to common assumption (propagated by familiar alcohol-induced fatigue), drinking does not help you sleep. Beyond the obvious ethical concerns of telling you to hit the Wild Turkey to party with the Sandman, alcohol actually acts to keep you from dropping into a deep sleep, thus reducing the quality of that sleep, making you tired the next day. Methamphetamines are not good either.

“And what do you propose should be done about it?” you irritably think, while sipping an extra-large coffee in Mac Hall. First thing is to avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed. Second thing is to try to exercise, but not directly before bed as this will actually cause increased alertness for a while afterwards. Third, try to get to bed early. Fourth, don’t get stressed out. Five…alright, alright, this is nonsense, screw it. I’ve got a better solution.

Administration should no longer schedule classes or exams before 11 a.m. This would allow students to get a proper eight hours, even if they are hitting the pillows around 2:00. Frankly, it’s unrealistic to think that students will be able to avoid or mitigate stress (I’m uncomfortable endorsing prescription drugs), or that they will get their work done without tapping around on the computer until early the next morning. Alcohol and coffee consumption, clearly a part of the student experience, are also unmovable obstacles. This leaves the reorganizing of early-morning schedules as the sole effective solution to the problem of student sleep deprivation. As an institution, the U of C should be striving to provide the best education possible and so, as the abolishment of early morning classes would lead to students being more focused in class and thus actually learning instead of focusing on not drooling too visibly, the measure should be whole-heartedly adopted.

Maybe then I can get down to only one pot of coffee a day.

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