All-nighters end like this. Above is an actual image taken during the 2007-2008 academic year at Columbia University.
I am an architect, who is pro-sleep. In addressing a climate which teaches and encourages sleep deprivation from the onset of architectural training, I wish to expose this, rebuke it and provide support, mentoring and sleep-positive awareness to those currently in school or considering this profession as their future.
I could list for you the physiological consequences of pulling all-nighters, but instead I want to address the culture of architecture school and some offices, where this type of behavior is glamorized. When I attended the open house at Columbia University for the masters degree program in architecture, there was a pitch made by the dean who referred affectionately to “all-nighters”, in his introduction to student life with comments like, “Break-throughs happen at 4am”….”this is a 24-hour think-tank”….”the most interesting place to be on this campus is the cafe in avery hall at 5am..” It was said with a tone of pride, of proof that this was the campus where real innovation happened due, in part, to the lack of sleep of its student..and as young, eager, driven creative I fell for it, hook, line and sinker….
I was captivated by the picture he painted, and I longed to be accepted to a school where people were so committed, passionate and focused that they stayed up late to trouble-shoot, to solve difficult design challenges, to bravely go where no architect had gone before. I was decidedly willing to sacrifice my own sleep, since clearly, that was required, and since I was committed to being a part of it.
I found an email from my first year of school, to my best friend, in which I explain why she hasn’t heard from me : “I have pushed myself beyond any limit. I have deprived myself of sleep, friends, family, leisure, yoga, nearly even breathing…….for the sake of design, for the sake of pursuing something greater than myself ultimately.” My language indicates, that I still believed that sacrificing my own well-being, was an acceptable trade for the “cause”, for learning a demanding trade, for being competitive in a cut-throat field.
But, in hindsight, what this meant was, developing very bad habits due to the environmental influence of “studio-culture”. I wasn’t learning time-management, since time stretched on endlessly with the design studios never closing their doors. I started drinking coffee, then espresso, then double/triple-shots to compensate for lack of sleep. I adopted all of the common architect behavior coping strategies which allows one to work endlessly in front of a computer..with little regard for anything else. I drastically reduced exercising, because doing so, meant I could sustain longer studio sessions. I observed the negative consequences of other students not sleeping, as I sympathized with peers who blurred words during their reviews and were barely lucid enough to benefit from a prestigious panel of reviewers. I grasped for some confirmation within my field that would reinforce that sleeping WAS essential and that getting a few hours would not jeopardize my overall career trajectory.
Well, here it is. For you aspiring students or current students. My advice is sleep, every night. It is essential. There is no way to speed up the process of learning good design – it takes years – once you are out of school. Yes, school is a place to learn new skills, explore ideas and create a portfolio that reflects your unique voice and contribution to the field of architecture, but compromising your own health will only slow you down in actually achieving this. School can also be a place where you develop GOOD habits, which sustain you throughout your career as a solid foundation sustains a building. Sleep compliments innovation. It reinforces good, sound decision making. And, in this field, being pro-sleep is about as anti-establishment and revolutionary as you can be.
Please find some pro-sleep links below: