‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’: Why we should change the way we talk about all-nighters

Officially halfway through first term and with deadlines looming, I find myself wondering how long it will be before I hear that all-too-familiar word wriggle its way back into student conversation with a vengeance —the infamous ‘all-nighter’. It is a common practice for students worldwide to forego sleep to finish (or, let’s face it, start) an assignment and is an activity to which Durham students are no stranger. Although attitudes towards the ‘all-nighter’ might range from seeing it as a symptom of a lack of organisation to a noble act of earnest dedication to one’s studies, one thing that is generally agreed upon is that most students will encounter it, sooner or later. But should we continue to regard sleepless nights as an ‘inevitable part of student life’, or is dismissing them as such simply perpetuating a harmful aspect of university culture?

Research has shown that students unsurprisingly complete less work and work to a lower standard while tired and sleep-deprived compared to being in a well-rested state. Moreover, when revising, you are less likely to absorb the information when half-asleep than when alert and awake; it is believed that certain types of memory, including those that are vital for learning and consolidating information, are reliant on specific sleep states. So, without a sufficient amount of time spent in these states, these types of memory can be impaired.

The link between a lack of sleep and mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and psychosis has been well-documented

A lower mark on an essay seems like a small price to pay. However, academic performance has not only been found to suffer the day after an ‘all-nighter’, but even after two days of subsequent ‘normal’ sleep, and beyond. Furthermore, a night of lost sleep can set an unhealthy sleeping pattern in motion. When you lose a night of sleep, your body usually attempts to compensate, meaning less waking hours available to tackle the next deadline.

Perhaps even more worrying is the link between sleep deprivation and poor mental health. The link between a lack of sleep and mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and psychosis has been well-documented and can often act in a self-perpetuating cycle. Given the increasing evidence attesting to the importance of sleep and the damaging effects of staying up all night, perhaps Durham should take a leaf from the proverbial book of Harvard University, who just this year introduced a new initiative called ‘Sleep 101’, an interactive online module that all new students are now required to complete before the start of the academic year. The module aims to counter Harvard’s ingrained ‘culture of sleeplessness’, and explains the importance of sleep health, as well as the factors that can affect sleep, such as food, screen time, and exercise.

Sayings such as ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ and ‘sleep is for the weak’ all serve to propagate the idea that sleep is somehow a failing, a vice or a weakness

As all-nighters are such a well-entrenched practice, it is unlikely to be solved overnight. However (albeit a small and simple suggestion), I propose that we start by changing our language around sleep. We should stop treating sleep loss as a joke, and have the courage to treat it as the serious and pervasive problem that it is. Sayings such as ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ and ‘sleep is for the weak’ all serve to propagate the idea that sleep is somehow a failing, a vice, a weakness, something to be shunned and resisted. It is time to stop accepting all-nighters as an inevitable part of the university experience, to stop seeing sleep as a luxury, and instead as a fundamental necessity.

It is time to stop shaming and pressurising those who would rather stay in and catch up on sleep than go on a night out. Far from being ‘weak’ or ‘pathetic’ for doing so, it takes a lot of courage to stand up and prioritise your mental health and wellbeing. Forget sleeping when you’re dead; sleep now, while you’re living.

Featured Image: Torrenegra via Flickr via Creative Commons 

Article Image: CDC via Creative Commons

2 thoughts on “‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’: Why we should change the way we talk about all-nighters

  • It is so easy nowadays to forget about the importance of having a good sleep. We’re sacrificing our sleep for work, but we don’t realize that by doing that we are also sacrificing the quality of the work done.
    But then I had another problem – I couldn’t fall asleep! So I read an article about the benefits of instrumental background music and decided to give it a try. I found this one that really works – I don’t know how, but after 5 minutes of this one I’m already in my deep sleep! Sharing it with you in case you might have the same problem, or just want to fall asleep faster – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCNQySTfel4&t=140s

    Reply
  • It is so easy nowadays to forget about the importance of having a good sleep. We’re sacrificing our sleep for work, but we don’t realize that by doing that we are also sacrificing the quality of the work done.
    But then I had another problem – I couldn’t fall asleep! So I read an article about the benefits of instrumental background music and decided to give it a try. I found this one that really works – I don’t know how, but after 5 minutes of this one I’m already in my deep sleep! Sharing it with you in case you might have the same problem, or just want to fall asleep faster – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCNQySTfel4&t=140s

    Reply

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