On Exhaustion, and How it Defines Us

Reading Time: 6 minutes

By Jermaine Lee (24A01A)

Fatigue is simply a fact of life in JC. It’s omnipresent—enter any classroom at any time on a school day, and you’ll almost definitely see someone slumped against their desk, fast asleep. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a classroom. Walking through the campus, you’ll probably find someone sleeping in the canteen, windy benches or mirrors. 

As a conversation starter, I like to ask my friends how much sleep they got the previous night. More often than not, the answer hovers around five or six hours. Getting enough sleep is almost an impossible task: students our age should be getting 8-10 hours of sleep, but 80% of us don’t meet this requirement

It’s no surprise, then, that we’re so sleepy. A study conducted by the Singapore Sleep Society revealed that 97% of students reported feeling drowsy during lessons and 70% actually falling asleep during class. More than a third rely on caffeinated drinks to help them make it through the school day. 

So, what does it mean for us to be so tired all the time? Is there even a way for us not to? How does our exhaustion define us? Grab a cup of coffee or read this as a bedtime story (whatever suits you)—let’s try to answer these questions. 

Sleepiness as the Norm, Not the Outlier

Before school started, we were introduced to this chart by the Peer Helpers and Raffles Guidance Centre:

Sadly, true. (Source)

No one has ever said JC was easy (at least, I hope so). Schoolwork on its own is enough to take a toll on anyone. The A-Level curriculum is not only difficult, but fast-paced. Add to that a plethora of extra-curricular activities, outings with friends and trying to get a decent amount of sleep every night, and you’re trying to stuff a cube through a circle-shaped hole. There just isn’t enough time in a day to complete everything we want to—something’s got to give. 

Ironically, we’ve been taught the importance of sleep to our health since we were in primary school, if not kindergarten, and heard all the advice there is to be had about sleep. Putting devices away an hour before we sleep, being consistent with our sleeping and waking times, sleeping a full eight hours. These are all things we are taught at least annually, and most of us surely remember at least some of them.

Yet, we let sleep take a backseat to everything else in our lives time and time again. We keep considering rest to be a luxury, rather than a necessity (for the Economics enthusiasts: YED>1, instead of 0<YED<1). 

We joke about being on the “grind”, but we take the metaphor of us being machines more seriously than we realise. Frivolous as getting some shut-eye may seem in the face of bigger, more pressing pursuits, we need to recognise that even machines need fuel to keep going. Think of reaching your goals like a marathon instead: to run, we need energy. That energy comes from rest. Otherwise, you’ll quickly burn out and fall by the wayside. 

For every minute of sleep we miss, we literally chip away at ourselves. Lack of sleep causes our immune systems to deteriorate, our mental health to decline and increases our risks of cardiovascular disease and obesity. These may seem like far-away problems to worry about later, but we can already see its effects now—we all know how virulently the flu spreads every month. 

Procrastination, my Old “Friend”

Being exhausted really isn’t a flex (Source)

Of course, there is another reason why we’re so tired: procrastination. There’s the external factor, then there’s the internal one. It’s too easy to lose track of time nowadays—there are so many distractions available to us at the press of a button (or a screen!). 

Imagine this: when you get home, you know you have a list of things to do. The thought of completing all that work is so overwhelming you decide you need a brain break first, just a few minutes of mindlessness… When you look up, you’ve scrolled TikTok for an hour and your eyes ache—but you haven’t done any of the work you should’ve. Sound familiar? This probably isn’t a figment of your imagination, but a memory. 

Procrastination can mean you’re lazy, but that often isn’t the full answer. We often put off work because we feel like we can’t do it. Procrastination gives us a break, albeit temporarily, from the anxiety we associate with doing certain tasks. When we come back to it, those negative feelings return, and the cycle repeats itself. 

“Plan your time well” is an annoying piece of advice. Its vagueness makes it difficult to understand and follow. Different methods of actively keeping track of how their time is used work for different people. 

I like structuring my time: making to-do lists and schedules is comforting. Following plans reduces the energy I have to expend in spontaneously remembering things I have to do and increases my efficiency. Penciling in breaks also helps me to slow down and breathe. 

There are resources everywhere to help us—we just have to look for them. There are guides to time management, Pomodoro timers and Google Calendar. Procrastination is not always bad, but consciously resting in an efficient way is not only guilt-free but productive. 

The Sleep Monster Has Come for Me Again

I dream only of sleep. (Source)

So what does it really mean for us to be so tired? In our pursuit of bigger and better things, we’ve normalised a dangerous and self-destructive phenomenon. We’re tired because we’re still learning how to balance our dreams with our health. We’re tired because we’re scared we aren’t good enough. We’re tired because we often want more than we can achieve. 

We should make the most of our JC lives—these two years are fleeting, and there are so many things to do and opportunities to take advantage of. However, that shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of our JC lives. At the top of our list of things we want to accomplish and goals we are striving for, there should be a healthy sleep schedule. 

Think about how you can’t overcome your caffeine addiction, how no matter how hard you study, things just aren’t going into your brain, and how burnt out you might feel right now. Sure, you can blame all this on how hectic school life is (which it really is), but you play a role in entangling yourself in this vicious cycle as well.

Even Teddy has a better sleep schedule than you do.

Put yourself first. How much can you realistically achieve in a day while prioritising yourself? Shiny lines of achievements look good on paper, but at what cost? For all the effort you put in for things you want to accomplish, what have you done for your health? 

Take a step back for a moment. The amount of sleep you get is representative of how much you prioritise yourself. We all want to make the best use of our time to become the best people we can be, but here’s the crux of it: taking care of ourselves is the first step towards self-improvement. Resting not only recharges you, but makes you happier as well. 

Please go to bed early tonight. Think of it not as a reward, but a necessary step for you to face tomorrow stronger and brighter. Good night! 

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