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Sleep deprivation not unusual for students

Catch some ZZZs? Not a chance if you're a student. This time of the year, college students everywhere are facing the onslaught of final examinations and thesis defenses. Coffeehouses are getting their best business as students fill up on caffeine and sugar to keep going late through the "night before"; 24-hour diners are seeing unshaven and ragged groups of young people show up at 5 or 6 in the morning looking for food.

Working often for several days without a decent amount of sleep, students somehow manage to get done every assignment, every paper, every bit of research they haven't finished during the term. Then, when it's all over, they're off to find anything soft and horizontal to "crash" on. All the hours of sleep deprivation catch up and students are more than happy to let it happen. All because someone decided it was okay for preschoolers to have naptime every day, but not college students?

Scientists are constantly performing experiments on depriving the body of things it takes for granted everyday. Like taking late-night pizza delivery away from a student, scientists are depriving their subjects: observing people who remain in caves for months, deprived of light; feeding subjects differently to deprive them of vitamins or other essential nutrients; or making subjects lose weight to deprive them of fatty insulation during the winter.

But has no one realized the enormous potential here in Boston, with over 50 colleges and universities containing over a quarter of a million sleep-deprived students in varying states of disarray and confusion?

The condition of students reads like the warning on a cold medicine bottle: Nervousness, dizziness and sleeplessness may occur. If symptoms do not improve within 7 days, consult your faculty advisor before taking any more finals.

The idea of consulting with students to do research is not an unfamiliar one, it just surprised me to realize that this enormous potential for a laboratory in sleep deprivation has not been tapped. In 20 years, maybe we will hear: ``The Center of Sleep Control in Cambridge, MA, has posted a warning for New England and the East Coast that there is a good chance students will be falling asleep more this week as finals draw to a close at many campuses."

There are countless research projects that could involve the lack of sleep and its effect on the human body. Eating, for example: Students deprived of sleep are reported to revert to food found primarily in machines that take dollar bills only. Has anyone ever measured exactly how many calories it takes to write a thesis? Could this perhaps be a future means of weight control? Instead of getting the "Freshman 15," there could be a way to prescribe preliminary research for a thesis topic.

Consider also the psychological aspects of the absence of sleep -- students go nuts this time of year. This is when the best parties on campuses occur: Students are so dazed to begin with, they don't need alcohol to get crazy and dance in their brain-bashing style. Every hear of a riproaring college party during the summer? Of course not, since everyone's fully rested and back to normal.

Perhaps, we do not want to encourage too much sleep deprivation research. We risk the chance that a cure might be found to offset deprivation's effects, bringing campuses back to "normal."

There is one consideration that makes such research problematic, and that is the aspect of conducting experiments. As any student who takes a lab course can tell you, there are at least two subjects needed for every experiment. With a quarter million students running around Boston without any sleep or rest as experimental subjects, where are scientists going to find a control subject for their studies? A student who sleeps enough is hard to find.


Christopher Urban is a senior in the Department of Architecture and is currently sleeping soundly somewhere in West Campus.