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I ALWAYS found the concept of insomnia unimaginable. I came to college with three alarm clocks set five minutes apart from each other on opposite sides of the room. Lucky enough to get a single in my freshman year, I regularly slept through a bright-red screaming buzzer that once caused my proctor to call the fire department. The smell of coffee embedded itself in the walls. I don't remember a month of my life when I wasn't tired.
Suddenly, during the last Christmas "vacation" of my Harvard career, insomnia hit. I had been under the impression that insomnia was a luxury available only to the well-rested. Unfortunately, I was incredibly tired my first night as an insomniac--although I was kind of anthropologically curious about the event--and I continued to be tired the second, and the third. I went through four days of work on about 14 hours of sleep.
Insomnia does not manifest itself directly as stress about the next day of paper-writing or an imminent exam. Insomnia for me meant worrying incessantly, for the first time in my life, that I would not be able to fall asleep. I spent my many waking night-time hours yelling frantically at myself: "Sleep! Sleep! Relax! RELAX!" When self-punishment failed to calm me down, I turned on the tape recorder. I paced, manically. I pounded my mattress. I stared into the light bulbs until my eyes watered. I cried, almost.
A LITTLE investigative reporting at Dunster House helped somewhat. There was an epidemic of sorts there a couple of weeks ago, and a friend of mine, formerly a scrupulous citizen, has turned to mild drug-pushing. He recommends Unisom. "They're blue and tiny and just have the lookof potency," he explains. "Sominex is big and yellow and I think it's a fake."
I regretted the skepticism with which I treated his complaints about two years ago, when he was terrified to return to his room at night. Stressed out beyond even my wildest nightmares, my friend would lie awake in the dark of his claustrophobic room, staring nervously for hours at the upper bunk.
"Why don't you just get up and do work?" He couldn't. Getting up to do homework was an admission of failure, and besides, it exhausted him. "Why don't you just turn on some music?" As soon as he pushed on the radio, wakefulness would wash over him in a wave, making him even more upset. "Why don't you just take some pills?" He did. They ruin his mood the next day, he claims, but at least he has a medical excuse.
STILLMAN isn't really equipped to deal with problems of this kind, and everyone sees the insomniac as a kind of hysteric or hypochondriac. But insomnia may be a lot more common than we think. I have lots of suspected victims in mind, the most recent being a junior who wants to move into 20 Walker Street, a lonely satellite of Cabot House, because "Lowell House is too noisy." Last year, I lived next to a trumpet player with a penchant for Israeli rock, and I slept fine. Noise is the least of an insomniac's problems. In fact, a trumpeter next door or a dancer upstairs can be the perfect thing to block out those voices in the brain.
Those nasty little voices. Your thesis will be late. You'll be unemployed forever. You had too much caffeine as a child. The doctor always told you not to eat coffee grounds raw. You'll get an ulcer. You'll give your father a heart attack and your mother diabetes. You will never fall asleep. You don't deserve to fall asleep. And what if you oversleep?
These are just a few examples of the voices that have pushed me to my present puffy-eyed state. I wish I had the miracle coffee bean that turned off at exactly 2 a.m. I wish I went to my sister's school, which in cold years adds an extra week to that five-week winter break so they don't waste fuel. I wish I had the answers. I wish I weren't writing this on two hours of what--for lack of a better term--I'll call "rest."
It's hard for me to believe that the cruel twist to my No-Doz-swallowing history is an unabating attraction to the tiny blue pills. I should resist this new addiction, I know. But I'm still debating it, and I probably will be all night.
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