“Look, Astrid, you need to start getting enough sleep,” my mom told me a couple weeks ago. I had called her on the verge of tears, overwhelmed and stressed out by the amount of work I had to do. “You need to be serious about it this time.”
My mom had seen me drag myself through years of sleep deprivation: falling asleep in the car on the way to school, nodding off at church, staying up late to study. Things haven’t really changed in college.
Night after night I go to bed too late and struggle to wake up in the morning. I’m tired everyday and fall asleep the moment my brain relaxes. Even as I lug myself through the quarter, complaining about having too much work and not enough time, I keep doing the same darn thing. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same result. Something had to change that week, so I ended up canceling all my social plans – even if it was just lunch with a friend.
Admittedly, it didn’t feel too good to flake on people I cared about, but I knew that doing so would free up my schedule a bit more. Every second counts when you’re trying to change your life. And I realized that trying to change your life for the better means being honest with yourself in different ways. If I had to give my future self advice, here’s what I would say:
1. Be honest with yourself and with others. I’ve been a hot mess so many times, but instead of trying to find excuses, I just tell people the truth: that I attempted an all-nighter and overslept, or that I’m overwhelmed. People – even professors – are surprisingly understanding. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but I guess I expected people to judge me or be upset. Instead, I’ve encountered support and compassion whenever I have to explain a hot mess situation. And if people aren’t as understanding as you hope, that can be a wake-up call – like during freshman spring, when I had to withdraw from a two-unit C/NC class in Week 6 because I missed 20 minutes of section and attendance is mandatory. I felt like such a failure, but it also helped me see just how overwhelmed and sleep-deprived I was, and how poorly I was functioning because of it.
2. Tell people! Accountability is real. A friend and I once made a pact to stop pulling all-nighters. He upheld the promise, and although I failed a couple times, I felt so terribly afterwards because I knew he’d be disappointed. Even if I can stand disappointing myself, disappointing others is another story. I tell people when I’m trying to change because I figure that if I tell enough people, then I should live up to the expectation I’ve set for myself.
3. Do something differently. Everything is easier said than done. I can tell myself to get more sleep a million times every week, but saying it doesn’t change anything until I actually decide to make a change. That’s why I cleared my entire social schedule that week, something I’d never done before. Other things I can do differently: change into pajamas earlier or schedule early meetings that force me to go to bed early.
4. Ask for help, make that call or send that text. There are so many times when I feel vaguely overwhelmed, and I don’t see how reaching out to someone else can help. Yet when I decide to call my mom or text a friend, I always feel better. Even if someone can’t offer concrete solutions, the support and validation really lift my mood. Besides, sometimes those closest to you can help you understand the things you can’t see. I didn’t think about actively changing my sleep schedule until my mom reminded me that I’d been sleep-deprived since high school, and maybe it was time to start turning that around.
5. Take responsibility. It sucks to know you’re part of the problem, but sometimes that’s exactly the way it is. I am the one depriving myself of sleep, and I also perpetuate the idea that sleep-deprivation is an acceptable norm. I recently met someone who gets eight hours of sleep nightly. “Wow, you must be such a well-functioning person,” I said in awe, as if they were exceptionally talented for being able to do something that the rest of us couldn’t. #TeamNoSleep is a trap, and we’d all be better off being well-rested.
6. Be compassionate with yourself. I’ve been trying and failing for years. There was a time when I would beat myself up for failing, but that used up a whole lot of energy I did not have. I used to wallow and judge myself for my failures and feelings, but that only resulted in a mental rut and I felt worse. Now, I allow myself to fail, then get back up and try again the next day. Isn’t it amazing that every single day can be a fresh start?
Contact Astrid Casimire at acasimir ‘at’ stanford.edu.