An Education

I didn’t get a lot of sleep in college.  I lived with a bunch of close friends all through my time in Provo, and we had our share of good times.  The problem with college is that there’s too much happening during the daytime to really enjoy oneself while it’s still light.  So night-time is kind of all you’ve got.  I don’t think by most standards people would have thought we were some crazy out of control frat-boy group, but it was hard to ever get to bed before midnight.  In fact, one of our more sleep-conscious roommates, whose room was a nighttime gathering spot for whoever was looking for something fun going on, actually had his alarm clock permanently set for midnight, which we all knew was his way of kicking us out.  We should have just gone to bed after getting the boot each night, but usually that was the cue for a foosball tournament or a wrestling match somewhere else.

The result was that sleep crept into other parts of life where maybe you wouldn’t want it to. At some point my dignity gave way to my drowsiness during a class, and once that barrier was broken down, the floodgates opened.  I started to think of most classes as a helpful opportunity to catch up on rest.  Some nights, when that twelve o’clock alarm would sound, I’d have a gut check about whether I should just do the right thing and go to bed, but then I’d remember “hey, I have Social Theory 302 tomorrow at 10:00.  I can get some shuteye then.”  And it was off to watch The Three Amigos one more time.

I remember one professor very clearly invited me at the beginning of a very small class not to fall asleep that day.  I considered accepting the challenge for a bit, but then he started his lecture in exactly the same tone of voice, and on exactly the same topics that he’d been using all semester long, which sort of signaled that he didn’t really mean it.  I went right to sleep in that class of about ten people, and he was kind enough to let me know, once I’d awoken, that I’d missed his lecture.  I would often ask him questions after class was over, but he could be sort of grumpy about helping me out.  Would he have been grumpy if I’d been deaf or dyslexic?  Probably not.  But you’re worse than dyslexic when you’re asleep– you can’t learn at all.


The problem got worse and worse until, for a few semesters, I was sleeping in literally every class I had for at least ten minutes at a time.  That’s not an exaggeration– I got so I just couldn’t stay awake in a desk.  In fact, my body started perceiving those hard chairs and the droning of a professor as a sort of Pavlovian lullaby, instantly shutting down my senses and my eyelids.  Think how low you’d have to sink to be the kid who falls asleep in every class.  It’s a very peculiar abandonment of self-respect.  I remember all too well the feeling of waking up in the middle of a lecture, maybe because the whole class is laughing at something the professor said (are they laughing at me? Was I snoring? He’s making fun of me isn’t he . . . ), or because a stupid nearby classmate had to make a comment (shut up, dude, you’re drawing attention to our area of the room . . .).  It’s not easy to maintain one’s dignity when waking up in the middle of a room full of alert people.  You sort of lay there for a minute until you’ve figured out where you are.  Then you have to collect yourself mentally and give a little pep talk about how you’re not a bad person, you just had a bad night last night.  Finally, you straighten yourself in your chair, bringing your head up slowly with a lot of peripheral scanning to see if anyone’s smirking at you.  The air in your throat immediately wants to come burping out right about then, so you need to watch that.  Finally, you do a quick wipe with a wrist to remove the drool that is likely shining on your chin.  Whatever the sins of the crazy partying college kids at other schools, I don’t imagine any of them ever felt as much self-loathing as I went through four and five times a day that year of college.

The toughest part to look back on was my record of college sleeping is my LDS History class.  I still remember this guy- Dr. Porter.  I loved him.  He was tall and old and handsome in a silvery dignified way.  I really admired him, and was impressed that he had written the textbook for the class, and a lot of what he taught us was his own primary research on the topic.  I thought it might be really cool to work for this guy, and saw him as a potential mentor that might help me through my college experience.  I stayed awake the first two class periods, as a signal of respect.  But the third class, it just wasn’t going to happen.  I tried to keep my naps brief in his class.  I tried to be extra attentive when I was awake.  And I always came prepared, having done all the reading.  But yeah, I still slept for 10 to 25 minutes each class period, and some people get hung up on stuff like that.  Regardless, I still entertained hopes that maybe I could work for him, maybe help him with some of his research.  So on the last day of class, I resolved to go talk to him, to see if he needed any student help.  But halfway through the class, I realized something- “you slept through his class every time.”  I lost my nerve.  Instead of approaching him personally, I wrote a note on the back of my final.  “Dr. Porter, thanks for a really stimulating class.  I’d love to work for you, if you ever need any research assistance from a hardworking student.  Please give me a call, 387-3448.  Ryan Bell.”

Sometimes I like to look back on that note, and try to imagine what Dr. Porter thought when he turned the paper over and read it.  Did he just smile quizzically?  Or did he fall over laughing?  Or maybe he was the one that kept prank calling us all that semester.  Whatever the case may be, I really like the fact that I wrote a note to a professor, asking him for a job, when I had slept through every lecture he taught for a whole semester, minus two.  College taught me a lot of lessons, and one of them was learning to feel entitled to rewards even when I could not deserve them any less.  College was awesome.

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19 Responses to An Education

  1. Eliza says:

    Oh man you so took me back to my college days (I know I know not that long ago, smart mouth brothers) and that agonizing decision whether to go to class and try for a nap where anything horrifyingly embarrassing was possible and decide in the end it was just too risky and might endanger my chances of getting asked out. Although mom and dad always raved what a pretty sleeper I was too, so that might have won me some points, who knows. ; ) oh the decisions! I almost always just didn’t go and slept in my apartment, b/c I just didn’t ever have that kind of “self abandonment” you described. So I’m curious, why did you even go to class? I’m pretty sure Chris has you beat though for most self abandonment in sleeping in public places, chris, we need to hear about the marriot fireplace and the library.
    lol to your asking for a job btw, great post.

  2. Serene says:

    Oh man, that sounds just like me only when I was going to school at a community college when I was 16 years old!

    When I finally when to BYU at 17 years I slept only through my generals. But not my art classes. It’s kind of hard to fall asleep while you’re sketching during figure drawing class.

  3. Jeff says:

    Ry maybe the sleeping in class became more prevalent in college but you had that talent growing up as well. Reading your post reminded me of the time you fell asleep in Deacons Quorum. We finished and left you there sleeping. We went outside and waited for you to come out of the room. 5 minutes later you come walking out rubbing your eyes.

  4. InkMom says:

    My husband is an eye doctor now, but when he was in optometry school, he would come home from a long day of grueling classes and brag about how much lecture time he was able to spend sawing logs. Brag! I gently reminded (read: harangued) him about the great deal of money we were borrowing so he could sleep through class and while I no longer heard about it, I suspect he did not stop doing it. I shouldn’t have complained, I guess. He graduated with honors and is now a reputable clinician with loyal patients and a great reputation. I suppose if you and he are any benchmarks, perhaps sleeping through class is a sign of future success.


  5. Braden says:

    Wow. I always assumed that people who grew up to be doctors and lawyers somehow stayed awake in class.

    I actually did ok during college. Now, I really struggle to stay awake on the stand during church. This is brutally difficult some days.

  6. Ryan says:

    Eliza- that’s such a funny compliment of Mom and Dad’s. If it was getting asked out you were worried about, sounds like you should have done TONS of public sleeping, no?

    Serene, you make a good point about falling asleep while doing art. Come to think of it, I could have totally avoided the sleep problems if I’d just gone to some sort of vocational program.

    Jeff, I have no recollection of that episode. But I also don’t doubt it. What can I say, I was just really good at falling asleep wherever I wanted, dating all the way back to when I fell asleep in the Mulcocks’ garage waiting for someone to answer the door. No one was home, so no one ever did, so I slept for an hour or so. It was a really nice nap.

    InkMom, the way I saw it, you weren’t paying all that money for the privilege of being awake in class; you were paying the money for the degree, and anything that wouldn’t directly put that at risk was completely in-bounds, right?

    Brade, staying awake on the Church stand through endless meetings honestly sounds like torture. You have my sympathy.

    Kook, what’s the fireplace/library story?

  7. Massey says:

    Very interesting Ry. You were always so chipper in the mornings and so quick to ridicule those that left “the room” before the alarm sounded. Not shocking that you withheld this hypersomniatic side of you while lambasting me with “groggy boy, groggy boy” every morning on the way to class. I may have been groggy in the mornings, but I never slept through class.

  8. Wade says:

    Ry, he probably would have called you but just couldn’t read your smeared left-handed scribbles to know how to get a hold of you. His loss, not yours.

  9. Landon says:

    ¡Three Amigos! always gets me too. For some reason I have a really hard time falling asleep in class, but I am able to stay entertained with, DDDT, and other highly entertaining websites.

  10. Dying at “It’s not easy to maintain one’s dignity when waking up in the middle of a room full of alert people.” The situation you described is so true. I never sunk to that low, but have definitely fallen asleep in a class or two. Just opening your eyes and trying to figure out how you can act like you were doing just about anything other than sleeping.

    I think Zack must hear that same Pavlovian lullaby whenever we go to the temple unfortunately.

  11. Rebecca Bell says:

    i can totally relate to waking up in the middle of class and looking around to see if everyone was staring at you. it only happened to me a couple of times, but it was a little mortifying. now, falling asleep in those hard, wooden chairs/cubicles in some remote corner in the library was a whole other matter. EVERY DAY for me. i even feel asleep in the couch in the periodicals one time which brought me to a whole new low. i remember waking up, praying that no one i knew had seen me. there is something so un-dainty about a girl falling asleep in an upright chair.

  12. Ben Pratt says:

    Oh, the humanity! I can only imagine how many lectures in grad school I interrupted with snores or talking, since I’m told I do both of those. The sad thing is that I wasn’t staying up late goofing off. I was doing homework sets! Ahh, physics.

  13. Erin says:

    That is so true about the burping thing. Could one of the doctors or their wives explain that to us? Every time I would lay on a desk, the air bubbbles in my throat . . .weird. So that is why i didn’t sleep much in class, fear of burping.

  14. Davis says:

    Story of my life. Fell asleep on my first day of work at at a training in front of the CFO of the company. Spent the whole rest of the day worrying whether he could see my name tag or not.

  15. Ryan says:

    But Massey, how much better to sleep through a class and offend a teacher than to be grumpy with a close friend? Listen to reason.

    Wade, if he couldn’t read it, it wasn’t because of my handwriting. It was the drool.

    Landon, that whole laptops in class was almost the death of me in law school. By then I was married, so I wasn’t always needing sleep during class time, but I was needing distractions during class time. Why do they make it so hard to learn?

    Danica- that other pavlovian lullaby is intentional. It has to be, right? It’s just inescapable. But you’ll find no better sleep anywhere.

  16. Ryan says:

    Rebecca, as a professional in-class sleeper, I have to say I wouldn’t even flinch at more open-forum sleeping. I could be seen at all hours of the day laying in some odd corner of the library with a jacket for a pillow. Painful to remember that kind of sleep now, but there was certainly no shame in it.

    Ben, you probably should have been goofing off with friends. If you’re going to be dead-tired all the time anyway, it shouldn’t be because of homework sets. You need to stop letting physics push you around, man!

    Erin- I am so glad you latched on to that! That was a very real phenomenon, and I’ve never really known if anyone else had the same experience. Glad to have that important issue in common with you.

    Davis, I did the exact same thing on my first day at my current firm. I think they find it sort of impressive. “Man, that guy must have worked really hard at his last gig.”

  17. Troy says:

    I dealt with the embarrassment of the drooling, burping, falling out of the chair, dropping pens, snoring, etc for years through high school and college. But my public sleeping days came to a screeching halt the day I startled myself awake with a huge exploding fart and everyone in class snickered at me. I quit cold turkey. From that point forward, at any hint of drowsiness, the memory of that mortifying episode replayed in my mind and adrenaline would shoot through my veins to get me through any lecture.

  18. Charlotte says:

    Are professors supposed to check the back of their final exams for secret messages? Is this a well known mode of communication I never utilized? I preferred putting the note in a bottle in the ocean and hoping they found it on their next cruise.

    That being said, I once tried the all nighter thing. That is how I learned that I am capable of sleeping while I walk and that bruises left from walking into poles are quite painful.

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