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Sleep and Studio Culture

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The best way to let people know that the work you produce isn’t the best is to tell them that you get eight hours of sleep a night. We all know that it’s completely impossible to be at the top of the class and be well-rested, right? The harder you work, the better your work is, and the less sleep you get, right? No. That stigma is more dangerous than any X-acto knife or CA glue.

For some reason, we have been conditioned to think that the less sleep you get, the more successful you will be in studio. We try to out-awake each other constantly, wearing our sleep deprivation like a crown of wilting laurels. Tell someone you got four hours of sleep last night, and they’ll tell you that they only got three. You feel guilty for that extra hour of rest--could you have pushed another hour of work out and added something better to your project? Will someone’s project be better than yours because clearly they were more dedicated than you? 

How did this come to be? How have we become caught in this illusion that a lack of sleep is synonymous with success? It seems awfully contradictory when you’re first presented with the idea, but think about it--we all know it’s true. We all think it, even if we don’t mean to. I’ve been here for little over a semester and it’s already ingrained into my thoughts.

As an architecture major, this stereotype precariously persists. We’re stigmatized as people who never sleep. This is true, to some extent, since we have a pretty heavy course load. But maybe the reason we don’t get enough rest is because we consistently feel like we need to live up to the chips on our shoulders. Maybe we don’t sleep because we feel like we shouldn’t, like we aren’t true architecture majors if we do. The “get some sleep” advice from professors is always followed by dry laughter. The “go to bed” warnings from TAs are ignored because we know they don’t follow it themselves. 

Does our environment force us to adapt to less sleep? Do we do it to ourselves--is our deprivation self-inflicted? Or, most likely, is it some twisted combination of both?Out of the architecture students I talked to, only twenty-three percent of them think that the less they sleep, the better their work will be. Yet a staggering eighty-three percent of them say that they’ve felt guilty for sleeping instead of working. Sixty percent think that the stigma around sleep itself actually affects their sleeping habits. 

“Professors preach the importance of sleep,” one student says, “but then overload us with work.” Another confesses that they “will come to class looking like shit just so my professors won’t think I didn’t try.” Multiple credit their best ideas to sleep deprivation, though one admits that “when it comes to completing the project, you need to be attentive.” 

Others have mostly accepted their perceived fate. “You could always sleep in studio lol,” one comments. Another declares, “We need more comfortable horizontal surfaces to sleep on in studio.” Though one claims she’ll sleep on the floor, and her friend thinks “drafting boards comfy too.” 

“Actually,” another counters, “desks are surprisingly comfy, when you’re too exhausted to care anymore.” This student once slept on a table in a seminar room and woke up to a section pinning their work up in there, preparing for a review.

However, not everyone seems to feel like sleep (or lack thereof) has really affected their studio experience. “I will die knowing that I don’t need to be in the studio at 4 am . . . time management!” one student says. Another sees correlation between someone who watches movies or shows while working and who pulls all-nighters: “People have different ways of working . . . I’m just pretty sure that if you’re complaining about no sleep while distracting yourself while working then you should try to be focused instead.” 

Which is true, to some extent. We all know people who can walk into studio, sit at their desks, and leave four hours later with their projects completely done. Granted, they don’t move for hours at a time, talk to no one and sometimes don’t even have earbuds in. Then there are the people who literally never leave, but who spend their time socializing or scrolling through Instagram or spending an hour on three individual basswood sticks. Though most of us seem to linger somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, we veer far enough to either end that we, as a major, have wildly different studio experiences. 

My experience: Studio is fun. Sometimes the fun is in finishing a project I’m passionate about, spending hours on a model or on the construction lines of a drawing. Sometimes the fun is in being with my friends, spending hours talking outside the café or singing too loudly in an empty classroom. I sacrifice sleep for one or both of these things--work and friends always seem to come first. But I have yet to pull an all-nighter, since I believe that it is not only possible, but necessary, to get through architecture school without pulling an all-nighter. There is always time to sleep, even if it’s just for a little bit. 

But, like most of the people I’ve talked to, I’ve felt guilty for leaving an assignment unfinished and going to bed. Even if I don’t feel well, or I know I can finish in the morning, or if I just don’t have it in me, I find it difficult to leave my desk at the end of the day knowing that there is still something for me to do. Which is the problem: There is always something else to do.

Have I always thought this way? Yes, to some extent. I went to a very competitive high school and had a similar outlook on academic work. Coming to Pratt only exacerbated it. Everyone here is exceptionally driven, and my competitive instincts tend to kick in when I’m around people as dedicated to their work as I am. 

Being so driven and so dedicated to making our work the best it can possibly be means that we are the ones who are able to end the stigma around sleeping. Deep down, we all know that nothing is more important than taking care of ourselves. Even if we try to ignore the fact or pretend that we don’t care, we’re smart enough to know that not sleeping enough is beyond detrimental to our lives. 

So why do we care? Who told us to care? Who made us feel that we have to watch the sunrise with an Olfa knife in hand if we want to succeed? 

And what do we do to fix it?

We stop caring. We stop competing and comparing and watching people out of the corners of our eyes to catch when they abandon their desks. Pick the wilting laurels out of your hair and brush the chips off your shoulder. We’re here to better ourselves, to make good work and have fun doing it. None of that is possible on two hours a night.

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Image by Emily Goto   


written by
NIna Martinek
May 11, 2020