So much to do, so little time. So sleep suffers among college students
By Jessica Watkins
It’s 10 p.m. on a Tuesday-do you know where Adelyn Kishbaugh is?
She’s not asleep under her dark blue bedspread. She’s not brushing her teeth in anticipation of a long winter’s nap. Instead, she’s hurriedly packing her backpack with chemistry books.
“It’s this stupid glow stick project,” she sighs. “The only time everyone in my group was free was 10 p.m. on a Tuesday. And our glow stick has been glowing in the freezer for almost a month. Can you believe that?”
At first glance Kishbaugh, 20, seems energetic enough. As a sophomore English major at Bryn Mawr College, she takes on a slew of academic responsibilities during the day.
And then there are practices for her rugby team, the Horned Toads. And there are rugby games. And there are Student Government Association meetings.
And she has friends who are acting in each of the two plays on campus, so she has to attend both of those. And she has friends in two different a cappella groups, so she has to attend their shows. And then she has to clean her room, a testament to all of the above strewn with playbills, posters, and rugby gear.
She’s only slacked off on one of her daily duties-sleeping.
Kishbaugh is not alone-a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation found that 63 percent of college students do not get enough sleep, and those at Bryn Mawr are no exception. In a survey, close to 54 percent of Bryn Mawr students considered themselves sleep deprived.
And don’t think these women are awake chatting or watching TV-87 percent of Bryn Mawr students blame schoolwork for transforming them into Ladies of the Night.
“My sleep schedule varies intensely,” Kishbaugh explains while sitting cross-legged on her bed. “How late I stay up depends on what I have due the next day.”
Does she pull all-nighters?
Like a few nights ago, when she stayed up writing a paper until 8 a.m. and got only two hours of sleep. “It’s terribly frustrating,” she says, still on her bed and clutching a bright blue bean bag pillow.
This is not the first time Kishbaugh has sacrificed sleep for the sake of schoolwork, and she knows it won’t be her last. Why? It’s just her nature.
She finds it easier to stay up late rather than getting up early, and she is a self-proclaimed “night person.” And so it has been since high school, when it was just her and her two parents living under the same roof.
“I’m an only child,” she says, “I’m used to being alone. I like it. And I like the dark. And in college, it’s hard to be alone.”
This could explain why she does her “best work” between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
To make up for some of the lost sleep, she’ll occasionally take a nap-at night. She’s even perfected a theory about the stages of an all-nighter: acceptance, procrastination, panic, doom, productivity, and Zen.
It seems like she has this whole “sleep thing” figured out, but she can’t fool her body. She explains that, when necessary, she will stay up all night for a few days in a row-then crash.
Her reaction time slows down. She has to focus 10 times harder in class. There’s no “filter” on what she says during conversation.
“I’ll start talking and then realize I’m not as charming as I think I am,” she says, blushing. “And I get really whiney when I’m tired.”
Then, a knock on the door. “Come in!” she sings.
A few seconds later a head of dark curls pops in the doorway, and Renee Byer looks up.
“Go to sleep!” she yells at Kishbaugh, giggling and throwing a pillow in her direction.
“Go away, I’m busy!” screeches Kishbaugh back at her. “She always tries to get me to sleep, but she stays up late, too!” she explains.
A few more throws of the pillow, and then the door shuts.
“If I go for too long without sleep I get really sick,” she adds. Last year her immune system shut down, and she caught the flu right before taking her final exams.
But despite the risks she keeps going, refusing to miss an assignment or skip class.
She thinks she lives in a culture of “taking on too much.”
“I’m in a hole,” she complains. “My hole for sleep is nearing the size of my hole for chemistry.”
She finally gets up off her bed and pulls on a sweatshirt. Then she swings her backpack over her shoulder.
“Time to go,” she sighs, ruffling her short, light brown hair. “The night is endless.”
* * *
Down the hall Renee Byer, 19, is sitting at a wooden table in the dormitory’s common room, still recovering from a pillow fight.
She, too, is a Bryn Mawr sophomore. Papers and books are spread before her on top of a red checkered tablecloth, and as she opens up her textbook a bookmark slips out and flutters to the floor.
“F**k!!!!” it proclaims, scrawled in red ink.
Byer looks down bashfully and a springy curl bounces off her cheek. “I’m sorry, that’s how stressed I was!” she says sweetly.
And with good reason.
She’s a Girl Scout with two jobs on campus, a third in nearby Norristown, a group of freshman to mentor, and an Outdoors Club to run.
“All my extracurriculars are obligations now,” she frowns. “It gets to the point where it’s not fun anymore.”
Byer was caught up in the whirlwind of clubs and activities last year as a freshman, and decided she wanted to be involved in everything.
Now, she has to pay a price.
“I take a lot of things on at once,” she admits, “and I do things when no one else wants to do them, like the Outdoors Club.”
She’s busy and sleepy, and it’s mainly because of extracurricular activities.
“I’ve been slacking in my homework lately,” she confesses, and points to her stack of books. “I’m trying to get it done right now, though.”
When she’s not sleeping, she’s planning events and meetings. When she’s not planning, she’s procrastinating.
“I got a little less than six hours of sleep last night,” she says. “That’s less than I like.”
It’s also less than the amount it would take for her to function properly and balance all of her activities at once.
“I’m noticeably better when I’ve gotten sleep,” she comments. But she doesn’t see her lack of sleep as a unique thing, explaining that her lack of sleep is “average” compared to other college students.
She didn’t sleep much in high school, either.
Like Kishbaugh, her nightly behavior might just be another characteristic of her personality. But Byer has a theory, and it blames none other than her school.
“I love Bryn Mawr,” she smiles, her dark eyes suddenly lighting up. “In fact, I love it here too much to do well. There’s so much to do besides schoolwork!”
Before picking up her textbook, she pauses and bends her head thoughtfully. “As a generation, we have very little self-control.”
A woman we will call Rebecca is tired as she settles into one of the plush red chairs inside the Bryn Mawr Campus Center.
“I’m a little out of it in the morning,” she says casually, tossing her ponytail behind her shoulder, “but usually I can pick up by the afternoon.”
Last night she got four hours of sleep, but you wouldn’t know it until you caught a glimpse of the dark circles under her eyes. She’s hungry (she doesn’t eat breakfast until noon because she wakes up every morning with stomach aches) and stressed about finishing her senior thesis.
On the outside, a woman we will call Becky (because she does not want her name used) seems like many other Bryn Mawr students who stay up way past their bedtime to finish work or studying. But on the inside, she is trapped.
All she wants to do is sleep, but her body has given her no other choice but to stay up late and join the Ladies of the Night.
“My friends tell me I need to get a normal sleep schedule,” she says sadly. “They don’t realize it’s not entirely by choice; I don’t purposefully stay up late.”
Then she looks down, playing with the hem of her sweatshirt. “It’s partially because I have stomach aches,” she explains.
For four years it’s been like this-going to bed late, getting up late, and eating at ridiculous hours because her mealtimes are pushed back. “I wake up an hour early every morning so my stomachaches go away by the time I get to class,” she explains.
So most nights, while others sleep, she lies awake until she finally falls asleep between 3 and 5 a.m. Usually she can be found doing homework or clicking through Facebook and various blogs.
Last April she tried solving the problem with a visit to the Bryn Mawr College Health Center. Doctors there prescribed Ambien, a sleep aid.
“It was really creepy because if I was in bed and I opened my eyes it looked like my posters were alive,” she remembers. “It was really unnerving.”
“Last year the fire alarm went off a lot in my dorm, and when you’re taking Ambien you’re not supposed to wake up. I can’t remember what happened, but my friends promised me that I was really…special,” she adds hesitantly.
She stopped taking the drug in May when she went home for summer vacation.
Her sleep deprivation has cost her both time and, well, sanity.
“There’s no filter on what I say. I was really tired the other day, and we were talking about Ulysses in class and how Jesus’ foreskin was sold and passed between people,” she remembers. “And I started talking about how that would make a great eBay ad, and I started telling them about how someone had sold magical unicorn semen on eBay.”
Ideally, she would like to go to bed while the sun is still up. “It’s a big comfort factor,” she explains.
According to her, the main things keeping her from sleeping are work, stress, and a fitful stomach.
“I have a thesis thing due on Monday, but I want to try and get it done by Saturday because I’m going to the hospital. They’re going to test me for Celiac Disease to see if I’m allergic to gluten,” she says softly, picking at her chair.
And until she is tested, she will remain awake-but not quietly.
“I find that I have to read aloud to remember things when I’m sleepy,” she says thoughtfully. “Luckily I do a lot of children’s literature courses so it’s fun to read aloud.”
Then she laughs. “Ulysses was not fun.”