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It shouldn’t come as a surprise that college students are sleep deprived. Between cramming, procrastinating, working and the occasional celebratory party, college kids often go days without a solid chunk of time for rest. Although arguably self-inflicted, life as a college student is far from relaxing. Too much work and our brains will literally stop functioning. Too much play and we lose sight of our work. Even when you find a good balance, there is still little time for sleep. And students aren’t the only ones.

You don’t have to look any farther than your local coffee shop to see it. The youths huddled over laptops surrounded by books, papers and a multitude of used cups. Business men racking up points on their gold card. Mothers pushing infants in strollers sipping their fourth skinny latte for the day. We’re tired.

Articles report it. Studies support it. America is sleep deprived.

The LA Times reported on a recent CDC study about our missing Z’s quoting that 30% of American workers are sleep deprived. But curiously enough the actual CDC report goes on to say that:

Among workers in all shifts, workers in the middle age groups of 30–44 years (31.6%) and 45–64 years (31.8%) were significantly more likely than workers aged 18–29 years (26.5%) or ≥65 years (21.7%) to report short sleep duration.

Well that’s weird. This study suggests that 18-29 year olds are not experiencing a lack of sleep. That can’t be right. Everyone I know is over worked, over studied and stretched thinner than the hair we’re losing. Perhaps the study was not thorough enough.

After reading the study, I’m still not sure what demographic sample they took for our age group which could account for the lower numbers. However, it is highly likely that we just don’t report our lack of sleep because it’s nothing to report.

On whole, we can’t afford to sleep. In a society obsessed with time and accomplishments, sleep has become a luxury. Those who don’t have to work multiple jobs can afford to sleep. Sleep is for the rich, or the lazy.

But the working class? Doesn’t stand a chance. Time is money, as the saying goes. Sleep takes up our already too scattered time. If we don’t sleep we can accomplish more. We can have it all and do it all.

For young adults not sleeping is acceptable preferred even. It’s expected. It’s what we do. There is nothing odd about it, nothing unusual and when we are surrounded by our peers we don’t give it a second thought. It’s part of experience the 20’s, right?

In fact I would go so far as to say that the average student spends more on their caffeine addiction than on alcohol each week. Some are so sleepy they turn to their friend’s amphetamines to power through their all-nighters, finals and mountains of essays.

Keeping us awake legally is a multi-million dollar a year industry. Starbucks, Monster, 5-hour Energy from coffee and tea to concentrated pills and tonics caffeine keeps this nation up and running. The prevalence of caffeine isn’t new news. In Jack E. James’s article in the December 1994 edition of the Psychiatric journal Addiction, he discusses the social prevalence of caffeine and discusses its wide acceptance despite being a psychoactive substance (essentially a drug).

With a coffee shop on every corner, shelves stocked with dozens of canned energy elixirs, caffeine pills in the vitamin aisle, it seems that the popularity of caffeine has only increased since James’s study. America is looking for more ways to sleep less and “do” more.

Some researchers say trying to cheat time can have negative effects on the body. We often hear reports of caffeine addiction and the harmful health consequences from over indulging. Articles surface every few weeks about some “latest study” about how sleep effects the body, the mind and society.

But will that stop us? Probably not.

People still smoke. People still drink. And darn it, in our twenties we need our caffeine.

We sure can’t afford the alternative.

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