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.