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David Conley/New University

Watching the sun rise in the morning can be a beautiful, if not breathtaking, experience. However, it becomes less breathtaking when I have seen the sun set and rise again the next morning, all the while sitting on my bed, typing furiously to finish an essay.

The problem here is fatigue; once it sets in, there’s no going back. We’ve all been there: eyelids getting heavier, sleep deprivation setting in and your sense of time starting to get desperately mixed up as midnight blends into 1 and 2 a.m.

In fact, fatigue doesn’t just affect your day-to-day activities. It gets worse than simply having trouble remembering material from the last lecture of a class or nodding off for a bit while a teacher drones on with something that you’ve seemingly heard a hundred times before. When it affects your ability to drive, or to handle any type of machinery, it can be life threatening.

My own experience has done nothing but confirm just how vital getting eight hours of sleep really is. I learned my lesson the hard way, and scared my parents and myself more than I ever planned to or want to again. It happened when I was driving home from Irvine over the summer. It was a lot later than I had planned; I didn’t feel like driving two hours to get home and I was so tired I would have given anything to be able to climb into my bed. While I was on the freeway, though, either my car or the motor home next to me got a little too close to the white dashed line dividing the two lanes. However, my car was the only victim in the encounter. My entire driver’s side mirror was knocked clean off, and when I looked at what had happened to my car the next morning, I saw that I also had a scratch running the entire length of the left side of my car, a dented fender and a driver’s-side door that no longer opened. I wasn’t harmed at all, fortunately, but my car wasn’t so lucky – about $5,000 worth of unlucky.

Insurance paid for the damages, and my parents were supportive throughout the entire thing. One thing was perfectly clear: driving when tired, even with coffee, is not smart. If your body is tired, it’s tired. There’s really nothing you can do to change that.

Fatigue isn’t just dangerous in these high-risk situations though; even daily activities take on an entirely different level of difficulty when lack of sleep is factored in.

Studying becomes harder; no longer can you simply read a page once and comprehend it right away, as it now takes multiple times to understand what the author is trying to convey. Even when talking, things are only half-intelligible. It feels like your brain is running in slow motion.

As a college student, it is difficult for me to try and find time to sleep.

All I can think about is what homework is due the next day, what I have to study for and what the best way to plan everything is so that it all gets done. I’ve gone a full week relying on only a few hours of sleep, and I’m confident that I’m not the only one. Fatigue is always waiting just over the other side of the bridge, until it has the chance to come and permeate every part of your life.

When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re playing with fire. My experience with fatigue could have been a lot worse than it was, and I was lucky it ended the way it did.

The lesson remains the same: sleep is a vital part of everyone’s health, and without it, there are no bets on what can happen.

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