Updated: Jan 31
We’re back to class with the recent memory of reading week in our minds. Some of us went to the continent, some to the highlands, and many to see friends and family. Almost without exception, though, we caught up on sleep. With papers complete and nowhere to be, we all rested our heads without looming guilt hanging above our heads. Ill-advised pub nights were revelled in rather than regretted. 11 am was the new 8 am, and sleep was in vogue. Unfortunately, once class rolled back around, we returned to our old schedules filled with academics, extracurricular obligations, and no less social interaction.
A lackluster sleep schedule usually follows, but that’s no oddity. One in 3 adults in the UK are sleep-deficient, and 60 percent of university students actively contribute to the statistic. Even though sleep wards off sickness, develops mental wellbeing, boosts sex drive, slims you down and reduces stress, we eschew it for other things, which is surprising considering the amount we’re willing to pay for health and wellness. Unlike Instagram health tonics, sleep is almost 100 percent effective and completely free. Who wouldn’t take such a low price for health?
Sleep is not quite free, though, is it? Every time our head hits the pillow, a silent barrage of thought overtakes us circling one thought: “Am I missing out?”
FOMO (fear of missing out) is a big piece of why we lose sleep. Typically, FOMO is framed as a social phenomenon, wherein we eschew work, sleep, or generally responsible activity for a preferable social counter. Further, we generate a type of performative preference towards these activities because we’re afraid we’ll miss some fun experience “everyone else is doing.” Considering the active social lives students lead combined with necessary academic rigor, social FOMO creates a time squeeze that typically puts sleep on a backburner.
Fortunately, this is a type of FOMO everyone recognizes. As such, we are better at combating it actively, because awareness yields action. We postpone pub nights to finish our assignments and recognize when a quiet night in might benefit us. We need to remember, however, that other types of FOMO exist as well.
Perhaps the most notable is academic or career FOMO. Spurred on by impending deadlines, the expectations of your parents, and the promise of debt upon graduation, we all scramble to put our best foot forward. We prioritize academic success by putting in extra effort and long hours at the library while keeping an eye out for any career development opportunities. We wouldn’t want to miss anything, after all. While virtuous in theory, these priorities can be vicious in practice. When our work ethic drives us to forgo healthy relationships with our friends or healthy relationships with our bodies, we run into some problems. We should not spend every waking moment scanning for that “one last thing” we need to fix in a paper or worrying about career development opportunities. Moreover, we should not push our waking moments into our sleeping moments to accomplish such ends.
Media FOMO also plagues our synapses. Often manifesting from the endless realm of trends and algorithms, this FOMO motivates an infinite scroll late into the night. After all, we have to keep up with the constant and infinite stream of data everyone is posting about, despite the mathematical futility of such a task. Even “singleplayer” platforms like YouTube or Pinterest have us drift from content creator to content creator, repeatedly capturing our attention with cheap mind candy. Through some strange hypnosis, we forget every bit of content present today will still be there tomorrow, and we push off sleep for “just another five minutes” until 3 am.
It’s not surprising that sleep gets the short end of the stick. It’s the only time of the day most of us aren’t “doing anything.” Sure, the organs between our ears are performing crucial cognitive functions, but compared to the appeal or utility of any activity no matter how inane, sleep is nothing. This perspective needs to change.
Sleep doesn’t need to be simply a chore, far from it. Sleep deserves a similar place to food in our lives, a daily necessity which we take opportunities to revel in. The similarities are truly uncanny. Like a steady diet, steady sleep schedule provides myriad health benefits. Like snacks to meals, naps can tide us over till sleep, but they certainly don’t replace it. Unfortunately, we focus on eating healthy, dedicating time and resources to dieting, healthy cooking, and more, but don’t lend the same effort to sleeping. Healthy sleep often takes a backseat to slapdash solutions like overindulgent naps and caffeine, the fast food and appetite suppressants of sleeping.
So our schedules and habits, both mostly under our control as university students, are the only justifications for poor sleep. Fear of missing out drives us to maintain such perilous avenues, yet there is more to this complex. A tacit perspective underlies both fear of missing out and our dismissal of sleep: the “more is better” approach to life. This does not necessarily mean a material “more,” but it is by no means exclusionary. We want to make sure we get “as much out of life as possible,” so we stack up experiences, possessions, virtues, and friends like hotcakes. A stack of 20 pancakes will make you sick, though.
We need to instead adopt a “do less better” approach to life, focusing on quality over quantity of experience. By replacing “more is better” with a small garden to tend, we stand to lose FOMO altogether. Further, we stand to gain enjoyment from the small (essential) things in life we now have time to do.
It all starts with a good night’s sleep.
Illustration: Liza Vasilyeva