After 40 hours without sleep, Michael Cole stopped eating. He instead traded food for cups full of coffee and cans of Mountain Dew, Red Bull and Monster.
As he approached the 80-hour mark, Cole started to see flashes of light in his peripheral vision. He remembers making the conscious decision to open his dorm room door.
“If I collapsed on my floor, no one would see me with the door shut,” the junior business major said. “So I remember going to open my door just so someone could find me if I collapse.”
On an average day, Cole drinks two cups of coffee in the morning, three or four glasses of soda and one to two energy drinks.
On an average school night, he sleeps three to four hours. Though his case is extreme, Cole is not alone in his flagrant failure to meet the nightly recommended amount of sleep and his affinity for caffeine. Most of his college-aged peers do, too.
According to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, only 30 percent of students sleep at least eight hours a night, the average requirement for young adults.
Freshman biology major Josh Riechers said academics are his main reason for staying awake so late at night. In his chemistry and biology study group, he estimated that one in three students even resort to taking caffeine pills to stay awake to study.
“It’s like coffee without the calories,” Riechers said.
A fellow in the Honors Program, Riechers added maintaining a good GPA is important to him.
“If things pile up, what I cut is sleep,” Riechers said.
Cole does much the same.
“I stay up all night to make the good grade,” Cole said.
But research shows sleep is the worst thing academically concerned students like Cole and Riechers could cut.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that lack of sleep can reduce learning ability by up to 40 percent. Additionally, the report found that getting a full night of sleep within 24 hours after learning strengthens new memories and builds connections between different pieces of information.
Memories won’t be strengthened with four hours or less of REM sleep. After a semester of sleeping less to work on assignments, Cole said he notices a notable drop in productivity.
“When I come back at the beginning of the semester, I’ll get my work done much quicker,” Cole said. “But I know I am less and less productive as the semester goes on, and I’m not sleeping.”
He said this is especially true around finals week, which occurs from April 29 to May 4 this semester.
“Last three weeks of the semester are always hell,” Cole said. “The fact I haven’t been to the ER is a miracle.”
Finals week during his sophomore year marked his infamous 80-hour flirtation with dangerous sleep deprivation.
“It’s a very dark place,” Cole said. Amnesty International even lists sleep deprivation as a form of torture.
Barbara Law, ORU associate professor of English, knows this to be all too true. During the 80s, Law worked in Washington, D.C., lobbying to free imprisoned Christians in the Soviet Union. Keeping these prisoners up for weeks on end was one of the Soviet’s favored torture tactics. Law is also the director of the campus Tutoring Center.
In advising students about study habits, Law stressed the importance to avoid all-nighters, and drink plenty of water near the end of the semester.
“Studying begins to be counterproductive when you are so tired,” Law said.
With three jobs, Cole thinks part of the problem is his busy schedule.
“I know it will catch up to me one day,” Cole said. “I want the ability to set a routine after college.”