Architecture students share experiences of sleep deprivation health issues

Alyssa DeGeorge

Sleep deprivation is a fact of life for many architecture students at Kent State.

Choosing to work long hours to improve their projects may diminish the students’ mental and physical health.

Late nights spent stressing over a project in the studio don’t leave much time to focus on healthy habits, physical activity or the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

Andre Gomez, a junior architecture major who said he’s one of the most extreme cases, has gone to see a doctor twice because of the effects of sleep deprivation.

After convincing himself he had an important 20-minute conversation that didn’t actually happen, one of Gomez’s friends took him to see a doctor.

The doctor warned him that if he continued to deprive his body of sleep, it would take a serious toll on his mental and physical health.

In the second “break down” Gomez described, he intentionally broke his phone and locked himself in his room to do nothing for three days.

“You reach that point because it’s so unbelievably stressful,” he said. “It’s so frustrating; it’s so hard; but at the same time, you do it because you love it.”

In each of these “breaking points” Gomez said he had been awake for 50 to 60 hours straight.

John Gunstad, associate professor of psychology who has researched sleep deprivation, said, on average, college students need seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Students who sleep any less are considered sleep deprived.

Tawnee Saxon, junior architecture major, said during the final week of one of her projects, she spent 10 percent of her time sleeping.

Doug Steidl, dean of the College of Architecture and Environment Design, said students should learn to work efficiently so they can finish their work without being sleep deprived.

“Our hope would be that through the process, they would learn to make decisions in a timely manner so that they can move forward,” he said. “Hopefully then they can meet the deadline without sleep deprivation.”

Maurizio Sabini, associate professor of architecture, said architecture students can avoid sleep deprivation by focusing on quality instead of quantity.

“We have developed this notion that the more we do, the better, and as a nation, we’re all sleep deprived,” he said. “It is possible to be a good architect and a good architecture student, and also sleep.”

When following students who were deprived of sleep for 50 hours, Gunstad noticed a decline in cognitive function at around 24 hours. After 36 hours, the students’ memory, concentration and problem solving skills worsened significantly.

Gomez said he notices that he goes through different phases when he’s sleep deprived.

“At around 30 hours, my brain starts to get scatterbrained and I have a hard time making logical thoughts,” he said. “Your vision starts to get bad at 36 hours. Everything’s blurry and things will start getting watery. You go in and out of this five to 10 minutes of sleep where you don’t even realize you’re sleeping; your mental awareness gets worse and worse.“

“At about 45 hours, your perception of everything starts to get really, really bad. One time, I was up for 52 hours, and I started to kind of see things crawl out of the corner of my eyes. You look and in the distance things will get watery and your thoughts are just completely out of whack.”

Gomez said the effects of sleep deprivation vary depending on the student.

“I’ve seen people really serious where they won’t smile and they’re kind of in a zombie-like state, and I’ve seen other people who just can’t stop laughing,” he said. “It’s literally like people losing their minds.”

Gomez said when he’s severely sleep deprived, he reaches a point where he’s almost hallucinating.

“I play out these long, elaborate scenarios in my head without even realizing I’m doing it,” he said.

Saxon said she used to drink two to three Venom energy drinks per day to stay awake, even though the drink has a warning label and is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. She said these caused a lot of “ups and downs” throughout the day.

Saxon said she’s started crying for no reason a couple of times. Once, she had to leave studio.

“There was no reason for me to be upset,” she said. “I just had one of the best critiques I’d ever had and nothing was going on, but I was just so sad for some reason.”

Saxon said using drugs like Adderall to stay awake is also popular in studio.

Gomez said he couldn’t stay up without it at the end of last year.

“You go through extreme measures to meet extreme requirements,” he said.

He said he uses caffeine to stay awake this semester.

Gunstad said caffeine increases alertness and improves cognition for a certain period of time.

“There’s a point of diminishing return,” he said. “After awhile, you just need sleep.”

Besides cognitive functions, Gunstad said sleep deprivation can also affect the internal body temperature, heart rate and rhythm and gastrointestinal processes.

“Our body has a built in clock to tell us when we need to rest to recover from the day,” Gunstad said. “When we don’t get (sleep), a lot of things get thrown off.”

Saxon said she has lost a significant amount of weight this semester because of sleep deprivation and bad eating habits due to the demands of her major.

Although she is 4-foot-11 and has always been underweight at about 75 to 80 pounds, Saxon said her weight fell to 63 pounds this semester.

“I’ll eat a Take 5 for lunch and a bowl of rice for dinner,” she said. “There’s just no time to do anything. You’re going to trade off your health or the quality of your project and getting everything done.”

Gomez said although professors know they work hard, he doesn’t think they really know the risks the students are taking.

“There are very few teachers who fully understand that our health is at risk; our mental well-being is at risk and they continue to expect,” Gomez said.

Steidl said students choose how much time they put into their project.

“The faculty doesn’t say, ‘This project is going to take you 40 hours, and I’ve only given you 48.’ The faculty says, ‘Here’s the problem,’ and the students choose how much effort they put into it,” Steidl said.

Jonathan Fleming, interim associate dean and architecture program coordinator, said if he notices that a student seems sleep deprived, he sends them home to sleep.

“We don’t want students doing this,” he said. “We want efficient, healthy students. They’ve got to take care of themselves.”

Saxon said she thinks developing this work ethic helps Kent State students when they go out into the “real world.”

“I think part of the reason that Kent State’s so well-known for (architecture) is because we put our bodies through so much stress,” she said. “We do so much work, and we have this heavy course load that when we get out into the real world, and we’re working for a company, employers absolutely love that we have this work ethic that we will put our bodies through all this torture just to get a project done.”