Monday, February 20, 2017

On All-Nighter Culture


There isn't a single person in my group of friends and relatives who gets a good night's sleep. Two days ago, I compared alarms with one of my friends back home, she had about 15 of them set up in 2-5 minute intervals. Growing up with a mother who notoriously wakes up at 5 am every morning, my 6:15 wake-up time was always an item of pride for me and then one day, I just couldn't open my eyes at this time anymore. I blame Paris, and winter, and darkness. 

Being at university in two different continents has been an eye-opening experience in many ways, but the most interesting was seeing just how different our student cultures were. When I first joined the Facebook group my peers had created for our first year Master's degree, I laughed out loud at one of the first posts I came across, one of my classmates prefaced her update by saying "I know it's late and you must be sleeping but..." it was 1 am during finals' week. I was in the middle of my second all-nighter of the week and 1 am felt like the middle of the afternoon. I was later told that the university library did not have extended hours during finals, another gasp there. Maybe I go to a hippie university, maybe there is simply no all-nighter culture here, as a matter of fact, I seemed to be the only one. 

To finish my thesis last year, I went through a very challenging 72-hour sleepless cycle and I was sure I would lose my mind. To celebrate turning it in, I fell asleep at a sushi restaurant in the middle of my meal and have no idea how my friend managed to get me home because I woke up the next day on my couch (I also never found out who got to finish my gyoza). 

After this, I vowed to never do an all-nighter again. 

In fact, I recently (and accidentally) discovered just how magical sleep can be. After a stressful week where I could barely stay focused and dreaded just looking at my to-do list, I wondered what was happening, was mercury in retrograde? Was it hormones? Was I broken? Did Paris finally break me? so I decided to go bed at about midnight and prepared to wake up at 6 am sharp to get some things done. At 10 am I woke up, feeling defeated I had overslept, only to realize I actually felt happy and full of energy. An hour later, I had made breakfast, cleaned my bathroom, and vacuumed. If I had only gotten sleep during the week instead of beating myself up for not being able to focus, I would have done a much better job. That's the thing about a lack of sleep, you may get more time to do things, but your body is not ready to play ball. 

With friends back home in medical school, law school, full-time crazy jobs, and university, I do feel a weird guilt every time I hear about their 2-hour naps a day (instead of nightly sleep) or 5 am alarms. Hearing about how little sleep they get makes me feel lazy. Listening to Arianna Huffington's TED talk, and reading excerpts of her book and interviews, one thing she says resonates with me, we do live in a world that encourages sleep deprivation and seems to look more favorably at those who partake in it. I don't think I'll ever be able to shake off the culture I come from, all-nighters, GPA races, titles for who has the-most-what, magnasupercumthisandthat, but I am certainly trying to ease up on the sleep disorders. In a way, I am lucky to be in an academic environment where you won't be judged for asking for an extension and you're expected to be asleep at 1 am. 

Now, this isn't to say I can give you tips on how to get an 8-hour sleep and go to the gym in the morning, kick ass at work, and then be out for cocktails. I regularly have stress nightmares, wake up hours before I plan to, or wildly oversleep past my five alarms, but I am trying to get better sleeping habits and fight through the lack of sun in wintertime Paris (I never had this issue in Miami where the sun blasted through my window at 6:30 am and made me feel energized and ready for the day). 

Arianna shares some of her tips for your best sleep on MBG so you can check those out. For me, I try to avoid caffeine in the late afternoon, put on my favorite pajamas on days I'm particularly stressed, apply relaxing oils to my neck and chest, and avoid watching stressful television (no HTGAWM). I also go to bed with my Patrick Bateman ice mask, something about the cold on my face relaxes me. 

Nighttime routines highly welcomed. Do you do all-nighters? Should we petition Betsy to get rid of them?

Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times