For someone who loves to sleep as much as I do, you would think I’d be more consistent at going to bed at a reasonable hour. If I try hard enough, I can imagine an alternate reality where I put down my phone, hop into bed and get that recommended seven hours of sleep every night. I would wake up bright and early, refreshed and ready to tackle whatever awaits me in the morning. Maybe I would even get up early to watch the sunrise, take a moment to close my eyes and listen to the birds chirping — or something else equally idyllic and Disney-like. It would be a beautiful start to the day.
Of course, that’s only a fantasy, conjured up in the depths of my mind. In reality, I’m lucky if I don’t feel like death waking up to the sound of my alarm, and the shift to online classes has done nothing to solve this recurring problem in my life. In fact, it’s done the exact opposite.
Sleeplessness has been a consistent problem ever since my first semester at the University. It started subtly, with late nights spent chatting with friends or binging shows on Netflix. Before long, I would spend school days scraping by on three or four hours of sleep. As someone who doesn’t like most caffeinated drinks, this was a nightmare. I would mindlessly take notes in my classes, sleepwalking from building to building. At certain points of the day, my condition would improve enough for me to say, “Hey, this really isn’t so bad” — only for my brain to crash a few seconds later into a sleep-deprived slump. The thing that kept me going during those weeks was my own stubbornness. I was determined not to let my late nights interfere with my grades, so the little work ethic I had left kicked into gear to ensure that did not happen.
When the University moved its classes online for the spring 2020 semester, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to return to a seven-hour sleep cycle since I was going to live at home with my family. For a while, it felt like I was reliving my high school days, sleeping in my old bed and waking up to a familiar house. Being in an environment where I could spend time with my family and pursue my own interests when I wanted kept me motivated throughout the semester. I considered it a small pocket of happiness amidst all the chaos. Unfortunately for me, merely living in my childhood home did not automatically result in my sleep schedule correcting itself overnight — in fact, it only resulted in the development of a new problem.
Online classes came with significant downsides, too. The adoption of asynchronous classes has given students the opportunity to choose when and where to watch their lectures, but this only encouraged me to adjust my sleeping schedule to this newfound freedom. Power can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and my choice to stay up all night and crash in the daytime with this virtual option is a prime example of just that.
Last semester, most of my classes were asynchronous, with only two exceptions at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. My earliest synchronous class forced me to at least get up before noon, and I wasn’t physically able to lounge in bed for hours without missing a class. However, the rest of my classes were either asynchronous or much later in the day, which completely wrecked my sleep schedule. I would attend my morning class, eat lunch, take a nap and refuse to watch my other lectures until after I woke up from my nap several hours later. Though this never became a daily occurrence, this cycle would repeat itself every few days. My life revolved around my napping schedule — something that never would have happened had I taken my classes in person.
Over winter break, without any classes to pull me out of my bedroom and onto my computer, I began to reduce my naps. Instead of dozing off in irregular intervals, I opted to sleep in every day to satisfy my seven-hour sleep requirement. Thankfully, I was able to reset my internal biorhythm and actually enjoy my afternoons, rather than sleep through them. This detachment from my school routine helped me realize just how abnormal my schedule had become over the course of the semester, and I was determined not to fall back into my old napping habits again.
As the spring semester approached, I told myself that I would return to a schedule more closely resembling life before COVID-19. I’ve struggled with this since classes began, especially since a majority of my classes are asynchronous again. Just last week, I was so exhausted by the end of the day that I collapsed onto the couch and awoke hours later in a daze. Needless to say, I’m more than a little concerned about how my body will react when the COVID-19 pandemic is no more and students are back to attending in-person classes. I’m desperately hoping I will be able to handle the normal daytime workload — preferably without falling asleep during lectures or on the bus.
That all being said, I think my experience — while perhaps not universal — represents the everyday struggles of living in a global pandemic as a student at the University. Taking classes online is hard, and remote learning has thrown many of us off-balance and into unpredictable situations. At universities with a rigorous course load like U.Va., it can sometimes feel like we are the only ones fighting to keep up, given the pressure to excel in all fields. With our country still grappling with COVID-19 and many struggling with quarantine and other priorities at the moment, I hope we can all take comfort in the fact that we are most certainly not alone. If any part of the past year has been troubling or had less than ideal effects on your studying or school habits, just know that there are many others who are right there with you — with some of us fighting to keep our eyes open.