By Felicitas Nagler 

Sunken eyes and half-hearted how-are-yous drag themselves across campus toward the CROUS cafeteria, over rustling leaves and against a chilly breeze. The object of desire: an unassuming paper cup containing the sweet, brown cure for constant yawns and chronic headaches. We all find ourselves among them, the coffee pilgrims, sooner or later in the exam season.

At the beginning of the academic year, we dutifully reminded ourselves to be healthy. We were going to eat our greens and get our 10K steps in. We were going to drink less alcohol and more water, study regularly, and limit our daily screen time to three hours. Above all, we were going to get enough sleep.

Now, a few months into the year, it’s easy to realize how naïve we were. 

If we truly prioritized having a healthy lifestyle, we would either fail our classes, abandon any hope for a social life, or both. We are always trying to find an ideal balance between relaxing and being responsible, but between champagne-tasting events, upcoming midterms, presentations we have yet to start working on, and an occasional club night we were lucky enough to even get into, this balance seems hard to find. There is one part of the equation that always seems to get a raw deal. The vital and wonderful part of existence I am referring to is, of course, sleep.

A survey conducted by the writers at the Sundial Press showed that 40 percent of the students on our campus regularly lose sleep because of studying. 50 percent indicated their loss of sleep stemmed from going out, and a whopping 70 percent stated that they were lying awake wondering why Piketty says “warlike phenomenon” and “at work” so excessively.

All of these reasons are entirely valid. But they do leave us wondering. How can we avoid joy-devouring sleep deprivation if we also want to spend time with our friends and enjoy some form of academic success?

Last year, IKEA France launched a “siesta cabin” initiative in Paris that aimed to help busy Parisians take short naps during their day. The yellow nap cabins were transported around the city by cyclists and welcomed anyone who was in need of a 10-minute power nap. What was mainly a marketing gag for IKEA—intended to attract as much attention as possible around the city—contains at its core a wonderful (and oft-forgotten) philosophy of winding down, weaving moments of serenity into our schedules. Such serenity, such peace of mind, is what we give up when we neglect our natural necessity to sleep.

There is something about sleeping in, going to bed without setting an alarm, and napping on a train ride. There is a certain kind of tranquility that has become very rare in the lives of students like you and me. In several schools of ancient philosophy, like stoicism or epicureanism, the tranquility of the soul, or Ataraxia, is a vital virtue or even the goal of life itself.

When we struggle to combine our academic and personal goals, and when our Google calendars are bursting and we cannot help but push the study session for after the party, it is not just a few hours of sleep that we are missing out on. When we do this again and again, in the end, what we are actually missing out on is our own Ataraxia—our peace of mind.

On the Sciences Po website, it states that part of the university’s mission is to améliorer la société, to improve society. I firmly believe that no society can be improved without peacefulness, without this tranquility that is so unique to sleeping enough. But how can Sciences Po help students improve their quality of sleep? 

Imagine Sciences Po siesta cabins (preferably not in the same garish yellow as the mobile IKEA pods) scattered over campus. Or picture an alternative that might seem more plausible: a nap room. About 60 percent of surveyed students indicated they would “definitely use a nap room if it was open to students on campus.” Creating a space for students to sleep would be a small victory in the struggle for a healthy work-life balance.

Until then, all we can do is try to rest in the red seats of the amphitheater and ponder Piketty’s turn of phrases as his voice slowly lulls us to sleep. Or, you know, we could get a coffee at the CROUS. 

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