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Sleepless in Stanford

It’s a sunny spring day. The sun grins down upon a field full of semi-clothed youths. Cheery music dribbles from compact speakers. Volleyballs fly through the air. Shriek, giggles and the smell of flowers swirl through the air. Where do you fit into this sensory image?

Well, step back a little. You’re not in Wilbur Field. Step back some more — you’re not even outdoors. Another step back: ah ha! You’re in a building in Wilbur complex — on the third floor. The third door on the right is where we find you. Open said door, and what do we see? There you are: passed out at 5.30 p.m.! Are you sick? No. Are you dead? No … You are something far worse (but also decidedly better): jet-lagged.

What does one grapple with during the strange, bleary period of time that follows your return to the other side of the world/country? Well, I legitimately travelled back in time when I flew back to California from Singapore this spring break. This meant that my 9 a.m. arrival on said beautiful spring day was superimposed with an internal clock blaring 12:00 a.m. Singapore time. Spring break had seen me collapse into sleep at no later than 10:00 p.m. each and every night — as such, it was simply way beyond my bedtime when I got back to California.

Yet, there was much to do before spring quarter began! Chief amongst these things: to enroll in classes before the Office of the Registrar made me a part-time student. Oh and also to pick up my laundry. Also I needed to clean my room, for I was increasingly cognizant of my hoarding tendencies. I vacuumed, tossed trash and thought metaphysically about which possessions to keep and which to donate. Basically, I tried to stave off sleep being a busybody, but I was at the brink of passing out by 5:00 p.m.

However, I could not, but for my Type A personality, let myself fall asleep at merely 5 p.m. So, I choked down two coffees. I forced myself to sit in the sun after learning bright light messes up your circadian rhythm, which was precisely my aim. As such, I also set my phone to 100 percent brightness and lurked around human beings, engaging in conversation to keep my mind running. My eyes were pink-eye red by the end of the day, but I was excited: 24 hours of being awake meant I would sleep like a baby, right?

Wrong. It’s now 1:00 a.m. I went to bed at 10:00 p.m. The fire alarm goes off in some godforsaken dorm, probably Stern, so I awaken. It is 6:00 p.m. in Singapore. I’m so awake. In fact, if I were the species of person that runs marathons, I was in that moment awake enough to run a marathon. I lie in bed, thinking over my life’s decisions and feeling my eyes sting at the edges. I scroll through every Snapchat story, which fills me with envy and sadness towards people who are capable of channeling their consciousness to the pursuit of their best lives.

At around 2 a.m., my foot falls asleep. I become jealous of said foot. Then, I fleetingly fear that I’ve developed deep-vein thrombosis due to the 15 hour flight, so I fire up trusty old WebMD. Unlike most WebMD escapades, this one somehow quells my fears. So I return to other thoughts, which are no less disturbing and turbulent.

I fall down a rabbit hole of angst. I feel deep empathy for the world where even if you want something so badly it remains out of reach. Such eccentric thoughts continue for a while, so I decide to journal so I can keep track of just how delirious I am, for future reference. But before I open my notebook, I am struck by a hunger so fierce it’s painful.

I say a silent thank you to my mum for sending me back to school with enough food to feed a medium-sized family. In my mind’s eye, her voice sings, “I told you so.” Upon completion of a carbo-loaded meal (surely loaded enough to induce a food coma?) and an in-my-head conversation with my mum, I lie back in bed willing sleep to come to me.

My roommate sleeps on, just as she slept through the fire alarm, and I wonder why everyone at Stanford is so good at what they do, even if it’s being unconscious. Broiling in angst about my inability to sleep, I wonder how it’s fair that so many nights last quarter I was near collapse during my late-night shower, but now I cannot induce within myself even the vaguest measure of drowsiness. I feel powerless over my own biology.

Resigned, I decide I might as well use my awakeness well. I trudge down the lounge of my all-frosh dorm, creeped out by its deep silence, and call my family. I complain as one only can with those who love her unconditionally. I got roasted a little also, but it was a change from the distress of sitting in the darkness, trying to turn off my mind. After the call, which helped my mind settle, I went back up to my room. The sun would rise in an hour …

I was imagining ordering a large coffee in a few hours when, wonder of wonders, I yawned. I hoisted myself onto my semi-lofted bed and was soon soundly asleep.

 

Contact Megha Parwani with your jetlag stories at mparwani ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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