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Reflections From a Senior: The Most Important Thing

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I’ve written a lot of words for The Phoenix, having been on its Editorial Board for seven semesters. This article will be my seventy-fourth, though the number would grow higher still if I were to count all of the staff editorials I’ve penned. On average, this amounts to nearly one article per week for the entire time I’ve been enrolled at Swarthmore College. The body of my work spans a variety of topics, ranging from being a barista at the Crumb Café my freshman Fall to theater reviews to serious reporting covering the ways that Swarthmore’s administration fails students again and again. I would place money on the fact that I may not be the student who knows the most about Swarthmore’s institutional history, but I definitely crack the top one percent. I consider myself kind of a kindred soul with Nicolas Cage, in that I write a lot, a sizable amount being on esoteric topics. But I have never once half-assed it, and I am immensely proud of that.

Throughout my time at Swarthmore, there is a lot that I’ve had to say. More often than not, I have been bursting with words, my only limitation being the amount of time I had to write them down. Most of them, in some form or another, I’ve said. Still, what I’m about to say is among my most important thoughts, spanning years’ worth of personal growth and a novel’s worth of words, that I have penned for The Phoenix:

You need to sleep more.

Yes, you.

With the hair and shirt and pants and shoes. (I don’t actually know what you look like, just making an educated guess.)

My sister once told me that her foremost regret about high school was that she didn’t sleep more. I was sixteen when she told me this, and being the edgelord I was at the time, I found her statement ludicrous. “Ridiculous!” I must have said at the time. “Sleeping is a waste of time. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

But I am nothing if not willing to admit to my mistakes, and now I see that she was completely right. I can honestly say that my main regret about college is that, for the first two years, I didn’t sleep nearly enough. I arrived at Swarthmore accustomed to a steady diet of six hours of sleep on weekdays, Saturdays full of activity, and Sundays where I slept until two in the afternoon and then scrambled to finish my work by the time the next cycle started. It was only upon coming to college that I realized that this unhealthy schedule had not, in fact, been a feat of stamina. It had been a feat of imbibing caffeine at a steady pace throughout the day and crying between classes as I tried to ignore the anxious jitters that coursed through my veins. And with my time now entirely self-directed, it was much, much harder to pull off.

During my freshman and sophomore years, I napped everywhere. Sometimes people tell me that they were so tired that they napped in Parrish Parlors, and though I smile and nod, I can’t help but think that that’s total baby stuff. Name a spot on campus, and I can assure you that I’ve slept there. On the Big Chair, on the floor at the Lang Center, sitting upright at Sharples — oh, yeah. I downloaded an alarm clock that forces me to solve basic math problems to turn it off in hopes of becoming better at waking up, but that did not happen; instead, I just became really good at doing arithmetic while half-asleep. I fell asleep in class probably twice a week, and I stopped attending talks because you can only fall asleep in front of Masha Gessen once before realizing that something has to change.

As with most people, a lot changed with the onslaught of the Big Bad Thing. I hated online school so much that I took the Fall 2020 semester off, hoping that things would become fairly normal by Spring 2021 (and they did… but with “fairly” doing some really heavy lifting here). I took two online classes at IU and UW, but both of them began in the mid-afternoon. As a result, I was able to experience something beautiful I hadn’t known since elementary school: the feeling of being consistently well-rested. My skin became clear, my hair became healthier, my mental health improved (discounting the perpetual stress of the 2020 election), and for the first time since childhood I had enough energy to go for hours-long walks in the afternoons instead of just crashing into the nearest surface and using whatever soft thing I could find as a pillow. During my final two semesters at Swarthmore, I made sure to schedule my classes so that I would be able to average ten hours of sleep a night. It is not a mystery of fate why my best performances, both in academics and extracurriculars, occurred in 2021.

I am often dismayed at the way that institutions of education at every level disregard the importance of sleep. Elementary, middle, and high schools often begin instruction long before their students are alert enough to retain knowledge without fighting to stay awake. Colleges often burden students with so much work that they feel like they must choose two amongst a trifecta of academic excellence, social satisfaction, and sleeping enough to make it through the day. Though I cannot personally speak to what the sleep situation is like for graduate students, I cannot imagine that it is any better. They famously suffer from abysmal mental health, and though sleep is far from the only factor pertinent to good mental health, less of it is rarely a good thing. Chances are, unless you’re of the rare breed that achieves at least eight hours of sleep a night, you will benefit more than you can know from sleeping enough every night. At least, that’s my experience as someone who once believed without question that sleep was for losers and the dead.

Though you might see me around because I live in the Ville, I am currently not an enrolled student at Swarthmore. I decided to finish early for several reasons, including that most of my friends have already graduated, I already finished both of my majors and all of my requirements, and none of the professors I was close to are around this year. I also attribute this decision in no small part, however, to the fact that I just wanted to get enough sleep. Please, if you’re reading this, make a plan to get at least eight hours of sleep tonight (unless you’re a member of The Phoenix’s EdBoard, in which case it’s definitely not happening). It is the smallest thing you can do for yourself that will make the most significant difference.

Anatole Shukla

Anatole Shukla '22 is an Editor Emeritus of The Phoenix. He is from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and studied economics, linguistics, and Russian language while at Swarthmore.

2 Comments

  1. Fellow Senior here, the last three semesters I have refused to schedule classes before 11:30am for this reason LOL. Sleep is great, though I still forget to achieve it sometimes.

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