Sleep-starved students don’t even bother with sheep

By Bobby Feingold

In the middle of the night, while most are becoming droopy-eyed, sophomore economics major Daniel Moughrabie is still up and about.

“Falling asleep at 2 or 3 [o’clock]would be a dream for me,” he said. “But it’s usually more like 4 or 5. With insomnia, you’re always alone.”

Moughrabie has trouble sleeping. The lack of sleep has introduced him to a whole new set of neuroses.

“I’m constantly thinking and over-analyzing everything possible,” he said. “I feel I haven’t completed something, and that keeps me up. I don’t want to sleep early, because I don’t finish what I need to finish. Even though I don’t usually know what it is that I have to finish.”

Record numbers of college students are complaining of sleep disorders, according to the McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois. At least two-thirds of college students report sleep disturbances, with one-third of those reporting severe sleep difficulties, according to the study.

It would be convenient to pigeonhole the usual remedies experts give for sleep disorders, like sleeping in your own bed and putting on soothing music. But for Moughrabie, insomnia has taken on a life of its own.

He said most of his actions aren’t just because of a lack of sleep, but rather “what insomnia makes you.”

“It’s affected the way I interact with people,” he said. “In friendships, I’m usually not in the mood for petty problems, and I don’t go out like I used to anymore.”

Now, he even defends it.

“If I want to sleep, I’ll sleep,” Moughrabie said. “And, personally, I don’t want to sleep. It’s a choice, yes, but I don’t get tired until 4 a.m. because my mind is racing. I don’t nap in the day. It’s my life routine; I’ve grown used to it. You can take sleeping pills. I know many people that do that, but I don’t. You get addicted to it.”

Both health experts like those at McKinley Health Center and sleep medication industry leaders are indicating that this generation is losing a war with sleep deprivation.

The New York Times reported last Tuesday that a record number of sleeping pills are being dispersed to more people each day as sleep disorders grow more prevalent. About 42 million prescriptions for sleeping aids were filled last year, up 60 percent from 2000.

In a world of cramming, last-minute essays and tempting parties, it’s easy for sleep to lose priority among college students. To some, like senior international affairs major Hayden Orme, the college lifestyle simply demands over-working and under-sleeping.

Orme has had trouble sleeping for years. She said college has only perpetuated her insomnia.

“It just got worse in college,” she said.

Significant stress is one of the most common factors causing insomnia, according to the McKinley Health Institute study.

Orme said she has tried different remedies to fix her sleeping pattern.

“I tried Ambien once, and that had no effect,” Orme said. “I’ll take Tylenol P.M.once in a while when I have the time to get a full night’s sleep, and it will help me stay asleep longer, but I don’t believe in sleeping pills. I’ve had fellow students literally offer me Ritalin and the likes while in class when I said I was tired-I was appalled!”

For Orme, the noise was enough to take her search for housing off campus. Now that she lives off campus, she said she is sleeping well for the first time “in years.”

“When I had campus housing, I literally had to call the NU police once a week because my bed would be vibrating from the loud rap music below me,” she said. “There would be fighting in the hall, bad lights, bad mattress. The glass on the windows would be rattling it was so bad.”

Orme now drinks less caffeine during the course of her day, which she said has helped her sleeping. She said as a sophomore, she would drink Mountain Dew at 11 p.m. just to have the energy to get her work done, and by the time she was ready for sleep, her body wasn’t.

But insomnia is not always the black hole of sleep it is so often characterized as by studies and health gurus.

For criminal justice sophomore Diana Cierpka, being an insomniac means more time to enjoy life.

“There is always a random friend to hang out with,” she said. “It’s so forgiving. You can miss a class here or there, no big deal, and you can always make up sleep. But the fun times are here and now, and who wants to sleep when there are so much more fun things to do?”

Cierpka said residence hall life doesn’t help. She said the noise usually comes whenever she gets comfortable, just in time to wake her up again.

“I’ve given up on trying to sleep,” Cierpka said. “After a while, you find yourself just kind of in a perpetual daze. It’s hard to know what time it is, what day of the week.”

Cierpka credits part of her sleep deprivation to the computer.

“The computer definitely plays a factor in me staying up,” she said. “It’s very easy to just do random stuff on the computer, and it makes time fly. Even if I’m tired but I’m doing something online, that will make me stay up.”

She said for many of the insomniacs she knows, insomnia seems to be a convenient blame for other anxieties in life.

“I feel most real insomniacs have at some point realized what is going on and tried to do something about it,” she said.

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