“Ya snooze, ya lose!”
“I’ll sleep on it.”
“I slept like a baby.”
“He sleeps like the dead.”
“Well, I just slept like a rock!”
“What a snoozefest.”
We have been conditioned to view sleep as a hassle. We’re fed, from birth, the message that sleep is time wasted. The (undying) Protestant work ethic tells us that the only people excused for sleeping are the young, the old, and the crippled. Everyone else can, and should, be working like dogs. After all, sleeping won’t get you into heaven, right?
As preteens, sleep was an obstacle that we magnet-school-nerd-type students spent years trying to overcome. We haughtily compared our hours of sleep at the lunch table, convinced that requiring less sleep was a sign of greater intelligence. Plot twist: your brain doesn’t work fast when it’s tired.
Those hundreds of hours of sleep lost on pride and productivity cost me much more than I realized. It cost me my confidence as I constantly craved bread, cake, cookies, and began to gain weight. Food became a habitual stimulant and reward, something to perk me up between class periods. My lack of sleep transformed food into an emotional outlet. The lost sleep cost me memories when I fell asleep first at every Friday night sleepover. It cost me gorgeous sunset views on vacation with my family and epic, thrilling movie experiences. I had become an ambitious teenager, and sleep had officially become the enemy.
Then I came to college. “It’s the best time of your life,” they said. “Enjoy it while you can,” they said. Whomever “they” are, they were very, very wrong. Struggling to adjust to this new, overly social lifestyle, mourning the loss of my first love, navigating a tumultuous roommate situation, missing my family, and battling some of the darkest moments of my life, all I wanted to do was be alone. College dorm living was this introvert’s nightmare. The sheer amount of togetherness is unreal: your room, your bathroom, your shower stall, your hallway, your bench outside, your class, and really even your desk are all communal spaces. You are never alone. Going to a school as large as the University of Virginia, alone time is nowhere.
I found myself retreating more and more to my extra-long twin bed in search of solace from everyone and everything. My anxiety and depression worsened and I found myself wholly unable to get out of bed in the morning. I slept less and less at night, lying awake, crying, thinking of ways to leave school, to run away, to hurt myself. I longed to sleep, even if just for an hour, so that I could get away from my brain. Sleep became an escape.
Sleep still serves as an escape for me, but I like to think that it’s healthier than drinking or drug use. Bad day? Take a nap. Hard exam? Take a nap. The butt of an offensive joke? Take a nap. A boy was mean to you? Take a nap. When I’m asleep, I feel heavy, warm, safe, and quiet. When I’m asleep I don’t feel hopeless, discouraged, or embarrassed. That’s when I knew sleep had become too important.
- Kara Adams