Night Night, Sleep Tight

LIZ ELDER wonders whether it’s true that less than six hours sleep per night can shorten your lifespan.

essay Lectures life span Sainsbury's Sleep sleeping supervision tired Wikipedia


It has recently been suggested that getting six or less hours kip a night can shorten your life span. That’s a worrying statistic; I don’t think anyone at Cambridge would argue that uni and sleep go well together.

The daily round of: lectures, supervisions, procrastination and exams means that most of us forgo that eight hour relaxed sleep for a couple of hours of power napping. Since coming to Cambridge, it has become rapidly clear to me that there is simply too much to do to allow time for sleeping. As the weeks flew by, I went from excited, to tired, to ill and tired (stupid freshers’ flu), and finally to near psychotic exhaustion in week eight, as the term’s activities of frantically making friends, joining societies, and trying to impress my DoS after my first attempt at a post-Fez essay all piled up. 

This hedonism has got worse as the year has developed. Cue 4am conversations about existential crises, Britain’s political failings, and that hilarious chunder outside Revs, complete with the watching of films you’ve already seen, and excessive YouTube marathons. And, even when you simply have to get an early night – so head to bed about 2am – a drunk NatSci from your corridor will inevitably be sellotaped to a mattress and dragged screaming across college (true story). This will wake you up. And, then there’s work. Despite getting almost a week to do a supervision essay, I resolutely leave mine until the night before, spend ten minutes researching what the essay is on (naturally relying on Wikipedia), and then write it at 3am in an exhausted haze of Facebook stalking, Haribo and caffeine. 

And, it is these things that keep us running. The Internet tells us things that we can absorb in a sleep deprived state in a much simpler way than our disorganised lecture notes and yet-to-read reading lists, while sugar and caffeine are the fuel to stop us keeling over. I, for one, am now heavily reliant on both to get me moving, and to maintain the pretence of being a well-balanced, organised person. Somewhere, there are those diligent workers who rise at 7am to go for a run, then return to learn some quantum physics, followed by seeing their friends and attractive other half, and making a cake before heading out to the theatre. While some of these people are clearly just super humans that only watch in envy, I bet that most are simply the result of finding the balance between caffeine and sugar. This certainly isn’t a good solution, and probably explains why tired people die young; but is popular. Sainsbury’s is never without a queue of overworked first-years, bulk-buying Aeros and Red Bull to try to get that essay to a semi-competent standard.

So I can easily believe that a lack of sleep shortens your life. As you read this, I’m sure you are stressed, wishing there were more hours in the day, and, since you are reading this and not working, you will have to stay up to finish your work, along with your stash of black coffee and Galaxy bars. The combination of stress and bad eating is certainly going to take a few years off. But, while you’re at Cambridge, there will always be too much to do, so it seems the only option to try to enjoy your retirement is to sleep in late and do less work. That way, when those smug super humans show off their starred firsts, you can look past your third, and think; ‘at least I can go on a Saga holiday one day.’