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Imminent CollapseSleep Degradation

By Bill Andrews

You know that episode of “The Simpsons” in which Lisa converts to vegetarianism? In particular, you know the part where she’s in her second grade science classroom dissecting worms, and in the background Ralph raises his hand and asks for another worm since he ate his, and Ms. Hoover says no you can’t have another one, you should just go to sleep? This is the setup for not only Ralph’s most famous line ever, but perhaps one of the best for “The Simpsons”: “Oh boy, sleep! That’s where I’m a Viking!” It’s funny not just because of the sheer joy a second grader has at the prospect of falling asleep in class, but also because of the striking imagery the typically dimwitted Ralph uses. A Viking, indeed!

But, my friends, we could all learn something from Ralph Wiggum, and not just because worms contain more protein than many of us eat any given day. We’re all tough hardworking MIT students, we know how to get things done, how to engineer solutions, and how to read science. And yet, very few of us come anywhere close to Viking status when it comes to sleep.

In fact, we seem to take a perverse pleasure in being sleep deprived. Much like the “I’m busier than you” contests I see all the time in the Infinite, the “I slept less than you, worship me” sentiment has been in full form lately. Not that it’s any surprise, of course; we are, after all, in the midst of term now, with exams, projects and lab reports blooming in the near future like horrible ugly flowers. It’s a wonder we get any sleep at all, right?

Ah, but is it? If someone is proudly asserting that he only got two hours of sleep last night, and only three hours the night before, is he not really saying he can’t manage his time wisely? Surely, in the weeks leading up to his academic trials and tribulations, he could have prepared a little better, paced himself more effectively, and retained some semblance of health and normality this week, instead of the bug-eyed, crazy-haired monster you see before you. (Unless, of course, he really is so busy that, despite working effectively everyday, he still must work deep into the wee hours to get everything done; in that case, yes, he wins, but the odds are he’d be too busy working to boast. So I’m still right.)

And in case you are about to say to yourself smugly, “Well, sure, I’ve been up studying till the crack of dawn [no offense, Dawn], but that’s only because I was out partying and having a good time the night before,” don’t. While it may seem worth it to have one night of fun, frivolity, frolicking, and further fantastical feats in exchange for one night of torture over a MATLAB screen or a blank Word page, is it really? (Hint, “no.”) Again, the odds are you don’t have to do it like this, that you can still enjoy a night on the town without having to bear the fierce brunt of sleep deprivation — you just need to have a bit of foresight.

After all, let’s consider the ramifications of a life gone sleep deprived here Everything seems alright at first, you get decent grades and get into a good grad school, from which you eventually do graduate, but all the while you’re missing hours and hours of sleep. Then you get a powerful, high-paying job, doing something that might vaguely have something to do with your degrees, and the madness continues: late nights at the office, a powerful and expensive coffee addiction, crib notes from coworkers after you sleep through meetings. You keep getting passed over for promotions, since you always look like terrible, and even though you do great work (you are from MIT, after all), no one notices; they’re too busy making up rumors about your bad breath and lack of social life. The one girlfriend you managed to get is driven away in tears because you never learned to schedule your time wisely; one day when you call her to break another date she screams into the phone, “I loved you! If only you’d slept more, you bastard!” And then where are you?

Clearly, losing sleep isn’t the answer. So next time you’re up really late, whether tooling or punting, ask yourself if it’s really worth it. Ask yourself if you couldn’t have planned things out better. And ask yourself if you’re going to learn from this miserable experience. Because if you don’t, there are hundreds of Ralph Wiggums out there gunning for your job, your girl, and your life, and they’re not afraid to get some sleep.