Look into my column and relax. Take a deep breath. Do not look away. Do not speak. Keep your mind on my words. Think of nothing else.
You are feeling sleepy. Your eyelids are getting heavy, heavier. Maybe they already are heavy, so heavy. So unless I am a natural hypnotizer, you are sleep deprived. And nothing personal, but I am slightly and empathetically disappointed in you.
Sleep is very very important. We tell ourselves this fact every time we yawn. And some ignore it and guzzle gratuitous amounts of coffee, or for the tamer folk, green tea.
Our sleeping pattern was skewed a while back. Back in the Dark Ages, people slept in two shifts. They retired upon sundown, dozed until midnight, woke up for an hour or two and returned to sleep until the early morning. Everybody thought this was a great system, and they even threw in the semi-regular nap in the early afternoon (some countries still do). Then Edison had the bright idea of the light bulb and screwed everything up. People stayed up later and, with industrialist thinking, squished the two sleeping shifts together to create one "efficient" eight-hour sleeping block.
With caffeine, screens, dedication and/or deadlines, we think we can whittle that block down a bit more, and a bit more - but that does not work. Sleeping less than three hours forces your performance to jump off a cliff and lie, struggling to breathe, at the bottom. I know the feeling, like someone stuffed a bunch of cotton balls in your head.
Why do we need sleep? We don't know exactly, which is a terrible but true answer for such a necessary function. We have a pretty good idea, though, that it condenses and filters experiences into long-term memory. Recent research completed at the University of Rochester found that sleep cleans out cognitive waste built up during the day (just like resting after exercise), and a lack of sleep lets the waste accumulate. You might surmise that this accumulation is not optimal.
Though it might not seem like it, you can easily get enough sleep. First, you must internalize the fact that sleep is the first priority. It affects everything. Your conscious experience hinges on it. Yes, you can function off a few hours of sleep, but how much do you remember of the hours you trudge through, zombie-like? Slumber usually is more productive than a late-night cram session.
But when should you sleep? Whenever you feel tired. Even a catnap helps your circadian rhythm get its bearings. Your body will fall into a cycle. Of course, you should also cut back on or nix caffeine (everything in moderation) and quit gazing at screens deep into the night (for reference, blue light is worst for sleeping, red is best). Bathrooms, frequently the brightest-lit rooms, pose the same problem as the screens. Light holds the most sway over your circadian rhythm, so closely synchronizing artificial light levels with natural light levels would work wonders. If restlessness persists, breath-robbing exercise during the day will render your body too tired to protest.
Can we return to our natural biphasic sleep pattern? It would take a cultural shift. The best we can do is advocate for naptime along with our lunch break (some businesses do this and report increased productivity).
Who am I to tell everyone what to do? Someone terrible at following his own advice. I work at a newspaper (architecture major, too). As with "Drink more water," people can be bossy and in the right if they command you to sleep. In using a third of the lifespan, sleep allows us to experience the other two-thirds fully. You cannot cheat that proportion.
Mitch Mackowiak is a Lovett College freshman and Thresher opinions editor.