by Jennifer Zhan, senior editor

I used to use a sleep calculator to tell me when to go to bed. It told me what times I should fall asleep in order to wake up after a complete sleep cycle, so that I’d feel refreshed even if I barely got any sleep.

It worked, too. Whenever I was up past my normal bedtime, I’d pull up the sleep calculator and wait until the ‘optimum time.’ It was amazing that staying up later actually felt like I was getting more sleep.

These days, though, the sleep calculator couldn’t help me at all. In the early mornings, when I finally finish whatever work absolutely needs to be done by first period, there’s no way I can wait forty extra minutes just to feel a little more alive in the morning. There comes a certain time where you’ve been awake for so many hours that it’s hard to think in the abstract, about how you’ll feel tomorrow morning or tomorrow afternoon. All you can think about is now, how exhausted you are at this exact moment, and how close your bed is.

When I walk into my first period class, I can immediately identify who went to bed only a couple hours ago. Teachers and parents don’t like to hear about it, don’t want to know if we got half the hours of sleep they did, don’t want to see quizzes submitted at 3 AM, don’t want to know that we don’t all go to sleep before midnight.

Work harder! Be more efficient! Prioritize your homework first!

They’re right. If I started studying as soon as I got home and didn’t stop, I’d probably be able to do most of my work before midnight.

But I’ve come to realize that I can’t do that. Yeah, I listen to a couple songs a day, I stop for snack breaks, I go outside to stretch, and I’ll watch a funny Buzzfeed Video if someone tags me in it. The time adds up, surely, to at least a couple hours that could be spent studying.

But I’ve decided that allowing myself to take that time is not just important, but necessary. If I go through my entire night not doing anything but classwork, I’ll be able to get to bed a couple hours earlier. Physically, I’d be much less tired. But mentally, I’d be completely exhausted.

How can I pick? Do I go to sleep now and do my homework tomorrow during lunch? If I have Calculus homework, do I ignore my sister when after two months, she’s finally found a chance to call? Will I do better on tomorrow’s test if I get more sleep, or if I stay up studying and get way too little?

In the end, it’s hard to say. Sometimes I’m able to hold out and put school over everything. Other days, I put myself first. I tried for a while to pick between one or the other, between constant self-indulgence and constant diligence. But it’s harder than expected to choose between the quality of my work and the quality of my sleep.

I’ve decided there’s a time for both. It’s just hard to figure out where the perfect balance is, and how to get there. I won’t pretend to know that. What I do know, though, is that my parents sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to go to the restroom and are disappointed to see the light spilling out from under my door. I know that my teachers see half the class close their eyes and slump down when they turn off the lights so we can see better. I also know how it feels to let myself sleep more, waking up wondering if I did the right thing. I know how it feels to sacrifice my sleep for homework.

Before, I used to think I was tired. Now, I’ve realized that we all are.