39 Winks

by Siew Jey Ren (13S03R)

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs posits that humans are motivated foremost by their basal instincts and physiological needs, before the subtleties of security, esteem and belonging come into play. In Singapore, students challenge Maslow’s conjectures in what must surely be a recipe for disaster, denying themselves one of the body’s most fundamental needs in the pursuit of greater goals.

We have all heard – and ignored – the dire warnings of burnout and collapse as a result of severe sleep deprivation. There are grains of truth in this, a phantasmal sword of Damocles threatening our physical well-being: medical research has attested that a lack of sleep poses increased health risks, and making up for lost sleep over the weekend, a remedy commonly cited by students, is far from the panacea to our problems. We can reschedule our sleeping hours, peel our eyes open through strength of will or even risk a caffeine hangover, but nothing in our biology allows us to adapt to such patterns.

Sleep deprivation of criminals has been declared an illegal means of interrogation and torture, but students continue to subject themselves voluntarily to it. There are a host of reasons for this; the most commonly cited being the enormous workload. While heavy commitments are an undeniable factor, it is frequently a lampshade for a more deep-seated prioritisation problem. Besides homework, the archetypal Rafflesian engages in co-curricular activities, voluntary school projects and, naturally, some leisure time. Merely attributing our lack of sleep to academic commitments is an unfair exaggeration. Most Rafflesians spend almost 2 hours daily on fruitless online activity. While the importance of leisure cannot be overlooked, in a school culture that breeds intense competition and a burdensome workload, wouldn’t this unproductive expenditure of time reveal a degree of over-indulgence on our part?

Menachem Begin describes it best – “In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep… Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.” But it is the price many pay in the pursuit of excellence, and for that reason we sympathize with the oft disfigured image of the sportsperson catching his forty winks during lectures, almost as if it were a brazen badge of his courage.

Some argue that a hectic lifestyle may actually condition us for the real world ahead. Beyond a sequestered school environment, there are many more priorities to juggle. A working adult’s life does not revolve solely around his occupation, but also involves his family, colleagues and social life. At present, the option remains to pin the blame on those inexorable forces beyond our control, in the vain hope that something will change, but in the working world, such an option no longer exists – we are ultimately responsible for ourselves, and it is our own paychecks that are at stake.

Physiological needs come first, and above all things, we definitely need those 8 hours of nightly slumber in order to continue facing our priorities. Life will get busier, but there will come a time when we simply have to stop and ask: what is more important?

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