Take that, Jack Bauer

It’s 5 a.m. I push the door open to the newspaper office where I’ve just spent the last ten hours and get slapped in the face by the coldest wind I’ve ever experienced. Yesterday morning, when I awoke at 6 a.m., it was a balmy 40 degrees outside. But now, 23 hours later, winter has returned to make my life miserable once again.

I trudge the block or so to the library. I later check to see exactly what the conditions were – 23 degrees below zero with wind-chill. I start shivering uncontrollably as I near the door of the library and fumble as I get my key to open the door. It’s locked after midnight. Throwing myself into the lobby, I fight to reclaim my breath that the wind ripped out of me. Only one other person is up at this hour doing homework. Between putting out the newspaper and going downtown for my internship three days a week, I haven’t had the time until now to tackle schoolwork. Three hours until class. Four hours until I can meet my pillow. Twenty-seven hours without sleep.

The average adult needs around eight hours of sleep a night, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Human beings have a certain gene which controls our circadian rhythm – the ‘biological clock’ that governs our daily wake/sleep cycle. That cycle shuts down our bodies at a certain time so they can mentally and physically recharge.

Unfortunately, however, both students and adults are not getting enough sleep. Fifty-six percent of American adults reported that daytime drowsiness was a problem for them in a recent Gallup Poll. Students may have it even worse. Studies at Stanford University show that 80 percent of all students were “dangerously sleep deprived.”

By “dangerous,” the authors don’t mean students are at risk of failing tests or embarrassing themselves by wearing their sweatshirts inside-out or backwards. University of California researchers found that after 19 hours without sleep, people acted as if their blood alcohol content was 0.05%. Even more alarming, response times and accuracy measures were even worse than if alcohol was the causal agent. Just think of how that raises the risks on the road. I’m glad I take the train to my internship.

The effects of sleep deprivation are so devastating that it has been used as a form of torture around the world. A man who was tortured by the KGB explained to the BBC that after two nights awake, hallucinations start and after three nights people start experiencing waking dreams, a form of psychosis.

I’m well aware of how a person feels after seeing two sunrises without sleeping. I managed to make it to my morning class in one piece, but once the professor turned off the lights for the PowerPoint presentation, my brain turned off as well. When class was over, I hurried to make my date with my pillow.

Sleep deprivation may be a problem for college students like me and working adults, but I think we students have the edge in beating it ­­- our days are a lot more accommodating to naps!

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