A 24-hour library would only encourage sleep deprivation

It’s 1:30 a.m. on Monday night/Tuesday morning and dozens of St. Olaf students are hiding out in their favorite spots in the library, three cups of coffee in their systems and on their fourth breakdown over chemistry homework.  Students are typing furiously to finish the conclusion to their English paper, groups of first years cluster in a study room to tie up the loose ends of their first-year religion project, music majors stress over their theory homework. There’s 30 minutes until the library closes and until students are forced to crawl back to their dorms to (hopefully) get a few hours of sleep before their 8 a.m. course.

The first time I stayed in the library until it closed was last year during first semester finals. I had a Moodle final that would take a maximum of two hours, so at midnight, I decided to go for it. “It’ll force me to stay up,” I thought. “The library is open until 2 a.m. anyways.” Bad choice. By midnight, my brain – and body – were already exhausted. It was nearly impossible to focus on my final, and I’m fairly certain I fell asleep a few times while taking it. But, I was shocked at how busy the library was.  When the overhead speaker announced that the library was closing, there was an audible groan of frustration in the normally silent reference room, and it was something close to a mass exodus through the doors of the library.

College becomes a contest of who slept the least, who was in the library latest, who studied the longest for a midterm, who finished the paper at 4 a.m. instead of midnight. Keeping the library open later would only encourage this toxic epidemic.

By keeping the library open until 2 a.m., students feel expected to be up until then studying and end up sleeping a maximum of five hours if they have an 8 a.m. class.

However, the average college student needs approximately eight hours of sleep to function through a normal day of several hours of class, studying, work and co-curricular activities. Any less can result in a term called “sleep-debt.” Sleep-debt is like financial debt; it accumulates progressively over time, getting larger and larger with every sleepless night. It doesn’t disappear overnight; rather, it decreases slowly as the body is rewarded with more sleep.

Keeping the library open any later than 2 a.m. presents several issues beyond welcoming sleep-debt, including: walking back to dorms later, encouraging sleep deprivation and creating an atmosphere of sleeplessness.

Walking back to the dorms or honor houses at 2 a.m. is dangerous enough, even at an incredibly safe campus such as St. Olaf. If the library were open 24/7, or even until 4 a.m., students would be walking back to dorms in the dead of the night. It would be reckless of the student walking back, and inconsiderate for their poor roommate who would have to hear the key turning in the middle of the night.

Keeping the library open longer would only motivate students to stay there longer, as some sort of strange mental challenge. It’s easy to assume that the library should always be occupied if it were open so late.

In reality, it’s open until 2 a.m. as a last resort; if the roommate is sleeping, if there’s a last-minute paper due, a huge test. It should not be an unspoken expectation to stay in the library until it closes, more of a once-in-a-while occurrence.  Again, if the library was open 24/7, students would feel obligated to spend at least one full night in the library, which only encourages sleep deprivation and a campus atmosphere of sleepless nights.

I understand that St. Olaf is an academically rigorous institution (trust me, I get it). And maybe during finals week it is necessary to keep the library open 24/7.  But, if students are finding that 2 a.m. isn’t enough time to finish homework during the rest of the semester, perhaps it is necessary to re-evaluate their daily schedule, not find ways to stay up even later.

It may be of the popular opinion and vote of the students to keep the library open longer. However, there comes a point where the institution must understand that this would only have unhealthy impacts on their students. St. Olaf students, for God’s sake, get some sleep.

Katie Anderson ’20 (anders43@stolaf.edu) is from Saint Paul, Minn. She majors in English and music.