Six Hours of Sleep by Carla

I have learned some classic lessons from my first year of college: how to fix a printer, how to speed-read and how to rent textbooks.  I’ve learned some tough lessons, too. One hard—albeit, memorable—lesson was that all-nighters are not the bright, productive ideas they seem to be.  College students need sleep. You’d think we’d know this rule, but we’re always challenging it.  I learned this in a funny way. 

I love a good book any day so naturally I thought I’d love my English classes. I took four during my freshman year. Most were good experiences. By spring, though, my study skills were rusting.  I had summer on the brain. I found myself in a British literature class with a demanding, quick-moving reading list. Before I say anything else, let me issue a warning: never do what I did.   

The class started in a hurry, centering on epics like Beowulf. I had a planner to track due dates, but I barely used it. I got an extra copy of the syllabus and left it on my desk, in a pile. This was my idea of being organized. New readings were assigned at every class, but in my haste I had the brilliant idea to just “skim” them. You know where this is going. I invested in SparkNotes, which—in hindsight—were longer than most of the original texts. I wrote papers without the proper research, usually last-minute, in the middle of the night. Part of me knew this was not the smart way to be successful in a college class. Part of me was proud just to have time to catch Thursday night’s Grey’s Anatomy. It was all about to catch up with me.

One night, about a week before midterms, I was struck by the seriousness of my mistake. I was keeping on top of all my classes, fieldwork and extra-curriculars—short of British Literature. This class had become a nightmare, and it was no one’s fault but my own. I hadn’t truly read any of the readings. I opened an attachment on Blackboard of the midterm study guide, and my jaw dropped. It just dropped. I sat there, staring at my laptop screen, bug-eyed. I must have looked like a deer caught in headlights. My professor had put together lists of study questions. They were detail-oriented, specific. They carefully tested for comprehension. I had never failed an exam, nor do I ever plan to, so I sought help in another bright idea: all-night cramming. 

I’m sure Starbucks appreciated my business that week. For three straight days, I functioned on a couple hours a night of sleep. I walked around like a zombie, reading and rereading materials that made no sense in my sleep-deprived state. I struggled over terminology. Who knew you needed sleep to retain information? You know those studies that suggest six to eight hours of sleep every night? They might have been right. 

My midterm was scheduled on a Thursday. By Wednesday, I was red-eyed and dozing off in strange places. I was also childishly terrified. I’d love to end this with a testament about how my sheer will and determination sufficed. Wouldn’t that be nice?  I won’t disclose the results of my exam—let’s just leave that part to the imagination—but they were nothing to be proud about. I lived, I learned and I definitely did better next time.

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