I managed to get through undergrad. without pulling a single all-nighter. Not a real one, at any rate. There were a couple of times I got only 3.5 hours sleep or so, but that wasn’t so different from my normal 4-6 hours a night. It wasn’t until I got to grad. school that I experienced the strange feeling of staying up literally all night long. I’m not sure what pulling an all-nighter in a library with a bunch of your peers is like, because I still haven’t done that, but staying up all night alone in your room while the whole world around you seems to be sleeping is very strange. Time seems to go very slowly and very quickly at the same time. Your mind both races and stagnates as you start to believe you’re the only living being awake in the entire universe. And, right after you get over that point where you feel like you can’t possibly go on, that you’re bound to collapse, you get this weird high of energy and start functioning on hyper-drive.
Well, at least that has been my all-nighter experience. And, like I said, I’m sure it’s different if you’re in a group. And I’m sure it’s also different for people who actually drink coffee (I’m one of those weird people who don’t like the taste…though I must admit it smells delicious) or energy drinks.
I’m lucky in that I get that last charge of hyperactive energy even when I lack sleep. When I get only a few hours, I tend to get that kick in the afternoon, soon after I feel that I won’t be able to resist an afternoon nap despite being in the middle of something important. I know that not everyone is like that. But I’m also not one of those so-called “sleepless elite” that actually wake up naturally after 4-6 hours of sleep. Apparently these people, called “short sleepers,” are super rare, and many people who think they are short sleepers actually aren’t (if you can function normally on 4 hours sleep but don’t wake up on your own without an alarm clock, or if you need to catch up on sleep on the weekends, you’re not really a short sleeper). I’m personally way jealous of these people.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. I love sleep. I find dreams super interesting (unless they’re comps. nightmares, that is. *shiver* ), and I like having a nice restful break between the days. But if only I needed less of it…I could get so much more done! And be happier doing it, since I wouldn’t be exhausted. A friend of mine here at Fordham is a short sleeper, and I bet you anything it is very helpful for his life as a PhD student.
Which gets me to the more grad.-school-related part of this post. Since reading that article above on short sleepers, I’ve been wondering: is how well you can deal with lack of sleep directly correlated to how well you do in grad. school? The multitasking abilities needed to be a successful grad. student (which probably carry over to being a successful academic) are incredible. You have to do well in your classes (which includes reading/writing for them and attending them), typically do a grad. assistantship/fellowship or some other kind of work to support yourself, and, on top of that, do your own research so you can try to present at conferences and publish work. Oh, right…and then there’s that personal life business (Psh! But who needs that, right?). And, unfortunately, you have only 24 hours in a day…just like a normal person!
So short sleepers obviously get an advantage. But does that always mean they do better than “normal” sleepers? And do people like me have an advantage over/do better than, say, people who absolutely need 7-8 hours to function properly? Can someone who needs that much sleep thrive just as much as a short sleeper in grad. school if they’re organized enough?
I guess what I’m asking is really this: should prospective graduate students make their personal sleeping habits a major consideration when deciding whether to go into academia?