Sacrificing Sleep; Gaining Introspection and Connection


by Carrie Ryter, Editor in Chief

It’s 5 a.m., and I’m on a Zoom reaching every corner of the country. Between the four of us, we have plans to overhaul every institution — from child welfare to healthcare — in the nation and more theories on how many fruits belong in a smoothie than we can test. Toeing the beautifully blurred line where recreation meets intellect and a tinge of sleep deprivation, I feel energized and content in a whirlwind unique to the middle of the night. 

To most, being awake at 5 a.m. is reserved for red-eye flights, battling insomnia or cramming for the most brutal of tests. To me, however, the middle of the night has become an unfettered space to fill with introspection and important conversations. 

Though this might surprise those of you who have met me during my tenure on Senior Staff, I wasn’t always like this. In fact, I used to avoid being up in the middle of the night at all costs — working in the car, disengaging from my friends at lunch to finish up homework, yelling at my older brother for stomping around the house. The list goes on. Sure, I was better-rested, but I was also inflicting unnecessary stress upon myself and missing out on important moments and relationships. 

The transition didn’t happen gradually or by choice; rather, a brutal Cold War history project and my new Managing Editorship conspired against any dream of sleeping at the end of sophomore year. I was mad; I tried to control my sleep schedule, but I failed, only further stressing myself out. 

As a proud extrovert, my favorite late nights are those when I’m with someone else. There’s a special bond in seeing just one other person’s active symbol on Facebook as you push through the last problem before bed, and I have Managing Editor Emeritus Peri Barest to thank for much post-midnight company and dopamine thrills. Having dabbled in the art of late nights last year, I entered the Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP) determined to learn as much as possible — in and out of the classroom, day and night. In the virtual classroom, I learned Socrates’s desire to abolish families; in late-night Zooms, I saw people’s rawest forms and revealed my own.

Aided (for better or worse) by being in the Eastern-most time zone of my cohort, I fell into a cautiously comfortable routine of ricocheting between serious and fun, intellectual and social, all while I should’ve been asleep. To go to bed early on that infamous smoothie night would have been to deprive myself of learning about the exclusion of African American women from “women’s suffrage,” from learning that my new friends from across the country were similarly repulsed by academic competition, from embracing intellectual challenge and personal connection.

The kind of bond formed when the world is asleep cannot be replicated in broad daylight. If you’re engaged in a conversation past 2 a.m., it’s either an intentional choice to be with the other person or the week before send-up. I’m deeply invested in my friendships, and when someone is engaged in a late-night discussion, not simply a brief respite from the day’s rigor, I know that they care as much as I do.

When even my most nocturnal friends are asleep, the night is mine, whether to work or explore. One night, it was a deep dive into foster care first-hand accounts; another, it was researching the intersection of the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Index and childhood upbringing. In the middle of the afternoon, I would have pushed these seemingly menial endeavors off as procrastination — and struggled with the shameful connotation it carries to me — but in the middle of the night, I allow myself an extra moment to breathe. As someone who holds herself to an impossibly high standard, I’m quick to reprimand myself for straying from what’s expected of me. In the middle of the night, what’s expected is sleeping; if I’m not doing that, I might as well make the most of it.

Going to bed early used to be just one example of the unreasonably high standards to which I held, and continue to hold, myself. Allowing myself to stray from a strict bedtime routine has meant giving myself space to be even slightly less-than perfect in this domain (so yes, I admit that my sleeping schedule is not ideal).

I wish I could say I suddenly have entirely realistic goals for myself on all fronts, but I can’t because I don’t. Letting go of this one standard that became impossible to achieve was important; even more important, I see that I’m still standing to tell the story. Moving forward, I want to give myself permission to apply the same forgiveness to other facets of my life. 

I already know myself well enough to know that I won’t rest until I reach my goals; now, I need to learn that there’s space to lower my standards of productivity and perfection ever-so-slightly without sacrificing my drive — even during the day. During a time where a heightened level of perfection is expected of me from the outside, I’ll seek solace, rather than additional strife, from the inside.

I’ll begrudgingly admit that those nightly 5 a.m. TASP Zooms that defined my summer are not feasible for the school year. Rather, I’ll be trading the late-night hours of smoothie debates and personality quizzes for derivatives and supplemental essays. Yes, I’ll stress about sleeping enough in anticipation of big tests, but when getting eight hours simply isn’t possible, I’ll strive to mix reflection and connection, rather than chastisement, with my studying.

So yes, I take too many naps, and a thermos full of coffee has become my signature accessory (and spilling it, my favorite pastime), and yes, my early-bird friends often wake up annoyingly bombarded by texts from my late-night epiphanies (or, in Editor in Chief Julian Fefer’s case, incessant grammar questions). But it’s in those dark hours of the morning that I have found space to reconnect with my friends, my values and myself.