Digital Diaries Season 2 Episode 8: Sleepy and sleepless nights with NU students

Erica Schmitt, Audio Editor

On Season 2, Episode 8 of Digital Diaries, Northwestern students share their sleepy and sleepless nights of college.



ERICA SCHMITT: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Erica Schmitt. This is season two, episode eight of Digital Diaries, a weekly podcast following the college experience and asking students a question about life at Northwestern.


ERICA SCHMITT: Personally, I’m the kind of college student who’s in bed by 11, but some students are nocturnal. I’m talking about an overnight-session-in-the-library type of nocturnal.

ERICA SCHMITT: Weinberg junior Thomas Yang is a night owl —

[owl noise]

ERICA SCHMITT: or at least he used to be. Yang spent many nights of his sophomore year at Technological Institute, more commonly known as Tech, with friends studying late into the night. As a biology and economics major, Yang says his course load is intense, which led to his odd sleep schedule.

THOMAS YANG: Last year, I was taking orgo (organic chemistry) and I was taking all the pre-med classes basically, but I was sleeping probably from like, four to five, and waking up somewhere between noon and 2 p.m. If I had a morning class, I would wake up for the morning class but then take, like, a four-hour nap later in the day.

ERICA SCHMITT: Yang says about 90% of his late nights were because he was studying with friends long into the night.

THOMAS YANG: I had a really bad habit where I wouldn’t do anything during the day and I’d start studying and like, maybe 9 or 10 p.m. like after I’d eaten and scrolled Instagram for like an hour but, kind of with that, I would be up really late studying. Me and my friends always end up ordering DoorDash to Tech, at like one or two in the morning.

ERICA SCHMITT: As the night went on, a regular group of janitors would come by cleaning the halls.

THOMAS YANG: We had our room that we’d like to study in in Tech, and then day after day, the trash cans just kind of kept getting more full with various different bags and boxes from different restaurants. And because we were working in there while the janitors were cleaning, they never wanted to come into the room and empty the trash cans because they saw there were still people in it.

ERICA SCHMITT: But one night, as Yang was leaving the building, it was just him and the Tech robot left.

THOMAS YANG: Tech has floor waxers, automated floor waxers that run, like late at night. That literally just make sure the floors are all clean and waxed. So, I would just leave Tech and be the only one in the hallways, and it would just be me and a floor waxer right next to each other. And that was probably also a moment where I told myself I would need to maybe start trying to go to sleep a little earlier.

ERICA SCHMITT: Yang now goes to bed around 1 or 2 in the morning. He says he realized how staying up late into the night was affecting his mood. And that’s where his advice comes in to anyone who has weird sleeping patterns.

THOMAS YANG: I’m not an advocate for losing sleep – I’ve technically never pulled an official all-nighter, like I’ve never gone 48 hours without sleep. It’s just finding what works best for you. As long as you’re not destroying your health or your happiness by staying up really late or having a really wonky sleep schedule. If it needs to be done, it needs to be done, and if it’s not really correctable, if you’re in the middle of a quarter, it’s kind of hard to fix.

[scribble noise]

ERICA SCHMITT: Communications and Weinberg sophomore Foster Lehman is the stereotypical late night college student — the one that consumes extreme amounts of caffeine and rallies the next day to head to their 8 a.m. class.

ERICA SCHMITT: Lehman has two majors — theater and chemistry. He says they are both time-consuming. And sometimes, the schedules don’t align well.

FOSTER LEHMAN: A lot of the theater activities happen very late at night, sometimes starting at midnight and going into the wee hours of the night. So, last week, I was in Shanley, the primary theater for undergraduate stuCo and stuff like that. I was there until 1 a.m. almost every night, painting and set designing and stuff. But, orgo meets at 9 a.m. every day. So, I’d be there, closing up the doors around, I don’t know, 1:15, and heading back to my dorm just to wake up by 7 a.m. to do my reading and prepare for the midterms for the rest of the day.

ERICA SCHMITT: Lehman says last quarter was filled with a lot of sleeplessness while being in both a theater production and taking long chemistry labs.

FOSTER LEHMAN: I spent one night working with this new (chemistry lab) program that I just could not get to work at all. So, I spent the entire night [on it] – until maybe 3 a.m. I finally got it. My lab report’s due at 1 p.m. though, so I’ve got to cram it out as much as I can before that deadline. I skip all my classes, barely turn it in before the deadline, sprint to Tech, and I’m in the lab for another six hours. And I wake up really early each day. That was almost a 45-hour day of constantly being awake.

ERICA SCHMITT: He wouldn’t do it again. This quarter, Lehman said he’s been sleeping a lot more compared to Fall Quarter. All-nighters are no longer his norm, but he’s still constantly on the run between his two lives of labs and live theater.

FOSTER LEHMAN: You get into these really interesting predicaments where you’re like, “When am I going to sleep?” that can come out of stimulants like caffeine and Monster Energy and sugars. But, it always ends with the same road where you’re rolling into either your rehearsal or your lab on a power bar, and two Monster Energies, and you’re just caffeinated out of your brain cells and you can’t think straight.

ERICA SCHMITT: Lehman says barely sleeping is unsustainable, though, and may lead to burnout. He survives it by hibernating for a couple of weekends out of the quarter to catch up on sleep. His advice for students struggling to balance schoolwork with self care?

FOSTER LEHMAN: If you can find a time where you’re like, “Maybe I should study this for another four hours, or I should go to sleep, I think the answer is you should go to sleep. Ultimately you build up a sleep deficit – you should probably get about eight hours a night to be successful. As soon as you go to a sleep deficit of more than 24 hours, you’re gonna be toast, and you won’t succeed.

[scribble noise]

ERICA SCHMITT: Weinberg sophomore Lila Shea is on the Northwestern club figure skating team. Their practices are twice a week, and end between 11:30 p.m. and midnight.

LILA SHEA: I had to adjust after joining the team, but I would say I go to bed probably pretty consistently around 1 a.m., or maybe midnight on a better day.

ERICA SCHMITT: Unfortunately, Shea is also a morning person.

LILA SHEA: I wake up pretty consistently at 8:30 no matter what I try to do.

ERICA SCHMITT: And one that needs her rest.

LILA SHEA: I really, truly need my eight hours. I’m a coffee drinker now, because I don’t always get those eight hours and even then, like, it reaches a point where coffee stops working for me and then I’m just truly too exhausted to function.

ERICA SCHMITT: So unlike Yang or Lehman with their nighttime tendencies, Shea is actually the extreme opposite…

LILA SHEA: Instead of staying up late, I prefer waking up early and finishing things. So, I’ve literally woken up as early as 5 a.m. to finish an essay that’s due that day. I just prefer sleeping first and then it’s a lot more pressure too when like, there’s three hours until it’s due. So, it helps me get it done faster knowing that I for real have to get it done now or never.

ERICA SCHMITT: Shea admits that with stress and the skating competition season in full swing, she is unable to get the same amount of sleep she usually does. Shea gave advice that she tries to follow herself.

LILA SHEA: Prioritizing getting sleep, I think, is a good first step. And lately I’ve been trying to go to the gym because it helps me fall asleep quicker, at the end of the day.


ERICA SCHMITT: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Erica Schmitt. Thanks for listening to another episode of Digital Diaries. This episode was reported and produced by me. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is myself, the digital managing editors are Joanne Haner and Olatunji Osho-Williams, and the editor in chief is Alex Perry. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear next week’s episode.


Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @eschmitt318

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