Monday, August 8, 2016

From the Archives - Sleeping Through College


Having hosted teenagers in my home recently, I was astonished by how late they stayed up and how late they slept in, and particularly how late they slept in even if they hadn’t stayed up late.  I try to sleep in sometimes but it just doesn’t work.  In fact, even sleeping through the night is becoming a challenge.  I don’t sleep soundly enough, so the cat disturbs me, or the morning sunlight leaking in past the blind, or a distant passing train.  Plus, I can’t get my temperature right.  Often, the soundtrack to my dreams is one heavy metal song for like four hours, so the sheer repetition bores me awake.

The following essay, written 27 years ago during my college days, is about sleeping.  Back then I often wrote little essays much like my modern blog posts (but not, I hope, as good) and photocopied them, shrinking four pages to fit on one sheet of paper, to mail around to friends and family.  This essay is from a series called “How to Be a UCSB Student.”  (By the time I transferred to Berkeley, I’d become wiser—realizing I didn’t know anything—and stopped writing how-to guides.)

How to Sleep Away Your College Days - October 27, 1989

Part One:  Choosing a major

While this may not seem like a normal category to be listed under “sleep,” it actually makes perfect sense.  Just check the chart below, locate the number of hours of sleep you’d prefer, and choose your major accordingly.

Expected Sleep
N/A – nobody really majors in this
4-7 hours per night
Art Studio
12-18 hours per night
Electrical Engineering
12-18 hours per week
6-8 hours per night
0 hours per night because you toss and turn debating yourself
Any other major
I don’t actually know ... go do your own research

Part Two:  When is bedtime?

While I have tried to study a variety of majors, my current data is limited to my college household:  English, Art Studio, and Electrical Engineering.

English major:  You can pretty much go to bed when you want to.  I wouldn’t bother trying to sleep before midnight, though.  Until then, the ambient noise in your bedroom will be in the “ear-splitting” range anyway, either due to a party outside or your art studio roommate trying to teach himself the clarinet.

Art Studio major:  There are few guidelines; the only hard-and-fast rule is that you must never retire before 2:00 a.m.  What you do until this time is up to you:  check out a show, paint, try to teach yourself the clarinet, or even nap.  TIP:  If you nap enough during the day, it’ll be easy to stay up late, so on those days you have morning studio you’ll be falling asleep at the easel.  This can only help your work.

Electrical Engineering major:  Bedtime?  Are you kidding?  Try to hit the sack sometime before you collapse from exhaustion — hopefully as close to this point as possible.  Also, try to turn in before your roommate wakes up so you don’t have to compete for the shower.

Part Three:  Snoring

The only advice I can give you about snoring is the same advice your roommates will give you:  roll over and shut the hell up!  But if you’re suffering from a snoring roommate, you have a more difficult task.

An occasional snorer can be silenced with a shove, a thump on the wall, or being awakened and told to roll over and shut the hell up.  But these techniques are useless on a hard-core snorer.  I have studied this case thoroughly, and I’ve found that there is a passive-aggressive motivation behind repeated snoring.  Usually, the snorer is the one who gets the least sleep, and who must get ready for bed in the dark while his roommates sleep peacefully.  Though he may not realize it, the snorer feels a deep-seated hostility for those who have more time to sleep, and subconsciously decides to ruin their slumber by impersonating a one-cylinder Briggs & Stratton 2-stroke.  The more tired he is, the worse his snoring will be.

Obviously, normal techniques are futile, even harmful, when you’re dealing with a hard-core snorer.  If you wake him up, his subconscious hostility will only increase.  Therefore, you have to startle him to a state of semi-consciousness without revealing yourself.  I have found marbles to work beautifully.  I keep a jar by my bed, and when T.T., my E.E. roommate, snores, I throw a marble at him.  The zinging noise it makes on its trajectory, the harmless sting it gives on impact, and the cracking noise it makes as it ricochets into the wall are all excellent snore-deterrents.  The real beauty of this technique is that after a few assaults, T.T. has learned to automatically associate the sound of marbles clinking against a glass jar with pain and noise.  Now, I only have to clink my marbles and the snoring instantly stops—so I can avoid the guilt of having assaulted my roommate.  Fortunately, this Pavlovian effect took hold before T.T. figured out why he kept waking up with marbles in his bed.

Part Four:  Talking in your sleep

I guess this is technically optional, but it sure is fun.  Having one roommate stay up all night to monitor nocturnal speech is sometimes difficult, but luckily T.T. is almost always awake, and C.S., my Art Studio roommate, was thoughtful enough to equip T.T. with a notebook titled “Secret Sayings from the Kingdom of Sleep.” 

Now, you might think we’d want to leave our unconscious utterances unrecorded, in case we say something incriminating.  But we’re all far too nerdy for that.  The classic incriminating utterance would be “Oh, Wendy” as overheard by your girlfriend, Julie.  But we don’t have girlfriends, and if we did, and they heard us say “Oh, Wendy,” they’d be like, “In your dreams!”  They’d never believe us suave enough to cheat, these hypothetical girlfriends.

Here are some actual utterances from our apartment.  I didn’t make these up—they’re taken right from the bedside journal.

“Ladle!  Ladle!  Ladle!”  (yelling)
“No!  I wont!  Oh, I don’t care anyway.”
“More stories... I don’t have the energy.” 
“What number did you pick?”
“Orange.  It will really shake the very foundation  of the earth.  Plus, uh, Geoff:  the shirt took sanction.”
“Somewhere, someone, the wheels are rolling.”
“What a feeling.”
(Hysterical laughter)
“Question:  I’m asking you...?  My phone’s all screwed up.”
“Grey, brown, dark blue, gloomy... Walk around, saying things like Sartre.”
“Check me out!”

Part Five:  Dreams

Achieving the most interesting dream is linked closely to diet.  If you eat a lot of garlic right before bed, or a spicy burrito, that should help.  Of course, the real key to memorable dreams is to have a really twisted mind.  I wish I did because my stories would be better, and C.S. wishes he did because his art would be better.  Only T.T. has disturbing dreams, usually involving a midterm he forgot to study for (which of course would never happen in real life). 

Part Six:  Catching up on sleep

For some reason, night isn’t always the best time for sleeping.  The other day, C.S. and I both awoke at 3:00 am for no apparent reason.  After an hour of talking, laughing, and throwing marbles at our resident snorer, we decided sleep was futile.  I studied while C.S. zoned out.  Of course, this sleep must be made up at some point — usually as soon as possible.  For me, the hours between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm are best suited for catch-up sleep.  It just so happens, my classes fall within the same time interval! 

If you can time it right, you’ll only sleep during lectures.  Typically there are so many students, the professor won’t notice.  Sit pretty far back because most of the professors are nearsighted from a career spent staring at a book, equation, or painting.  But then, targeting lectures is not always possible; after all, sleep makes its own rules.  

I fell asleep in French class last week, my elbow on the desk and my head propped in my hand, and Molly, the cute blonde next to me, knocked my elbow out so I went sprawling, knocking my books to the floor.  Amazingly, the instructor didn’t chew me out or anything.  Either she’s a romantic, and took Molly’s treachery for flirting, or assumed I was up all night phoning my relatives in earthquake-ridden San Francisco.  Or maybe it’s because this instructor is young, and thinks back fondly on how, not so long ago, she herself slept through college. 

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