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Funny, isn’t it, that the words “insomnia” and “Columbia” sound alike? Insomnia actually does not seem like it would be a problem here; if anything, it would be that people don’t have enough time in bed to snooze in the first place. Between band practice, chess club, protesting against Columbia Dining’s cooperation with noodle companies that underpay overseas noodle rollers, sporting glow sticks and Red Bull and squashing yourself into a Hell’s Kitchen nightclub of smarmy finance guys trying to talk over thumping house music—not to mention this thing called… academics (no clue what that is)—Columbia students would seem to be of the sort, when they actually get to bed, to have no problem with insomnia, but rather immediately drop into an exhausted hibernation due to being both in university and in New York City.

Alas, though, a whole bunch of studies show that about 10% of college students have insomnia at any given time. This means that when these Columpatriots go to bed, they cannot sleep. So how do you avoid ending up staring at the ceiling for hours every night? The latest research gives us hope of a campus without sleeplessness.

Scientists have divided the causes of college student insomnia into a bunch of different types:

  • a medical condition (e.g., you broke your toe playing Quidditch, and the pain keeps you up)
  • psychopathological insomnia (e.g., you’re worried about your orgo exam tomorrow and can’t get the word “dextrorotatory” out of your head)
  • substance abuse (e.g., your caffeine habit)
  • poor sleep hygiene

Now: a group of researchers working together around the country found that the single most powerful reason for university student insomnia is improper scheduling. These scientists, after correcting for other factors, found that we tend to mess up our slumber most of all because we don’t go to bed and wake up at regular times. At places like Columbia, students often hit the hay at 11 p.m. one night, then 1:30 a.m. the next, then have to wake up for a 7:30 a.m. lecture on ancient Greek, then sleep in all the next afternoon until even Alma Mater is dozing off (for which we can forgive her, having to hold her hands up like that all day).

Furthermore: college students whose insomnia originated in psychopathology tended to do less physical activity than those with other origins. Researchers speculate that people who are depressed or anxious often stop working out or even walking around, and end up skipping classes, clubs, and so forth. If you don’t move during the day, you’re less likely to fall asleep at night, because you’ve expended less refreshable energy.

And daydream on this little factoid: college students whose parents are authoritarian, as opposed to authoritative, are more likely to have insomnia. In other words, if your mums and dads are strict and uncompromising, you’d be less likely to say hi to the sandman than if they were flexible and used warm discipline. Oh, the hardest thing about life in New York can be the ’rents.

So, what to do? Of course, first you’ve got to try to avoid the causes listed above. Don’t do stimulant drugs. Don’t get behind in your work. And please, please wear your toe guard when you are playing Quidditch. These rules apply to the general population.

But specifically for Columbia students, here are some extra hints for hibernation:

  • Keep a regular schedule. “But I can’t!” I can hear you protest in desperation. “My friends hang out in East Campus until 2 a.m.! I won’t have a social life!” I know it seems that way, but actually, young grasshopper, it’s not true that you won’t have a social life. I’m speaking from personal experience. My friends know that I have a strict 9 p.m. bedtime Sunday through Thursday, and so they arrange to meet me early evenings. Furthermore, this is a situation in which we must apply Kant’s Categorical Imperative. If all Columbia students went to bed at 9 p.m., the socializing would start earlier, and we’d all stop risking insomnia.
  • Just do it. Exercise, I mean. It can be really tough when you’re depressed or anxious, but exercise is, in fact, a great therapy for those conditions, if you can just get yourself out of bed and your sneakers on. Columbia Health has this dreamy program called “CU Move” to help you find a way to exercise no matter what your situation. And if you are depressed or often anxious, please see a healthcare professional (but that’s another advice column).
  • Get new parents. Or at least, learn to deal with your own, if they’re authoritarian. You’ve already made it to the Ivy League—you probably don’t deserve someone breathing down your back so hard you can’t sleep at night. CPS can help here.

What other tips do you have to avoid staying up until the sun rises over the Triborough Bridge? Let us know in the comments.

Erik Campano is a General Studies student in the class of 2015 who hopes someday to be a medical doctor working year-round in developing countries. Until then, he’s giving health advice to Columbia.

erik campano student health insomnia
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