From playing badminton matches during the wee hours to finishing assignments before the early morning submission deadline — the late night culture has been pretty popular in IITs across the country. But does that help students? indianexpress.com talked to several IIT students, faculty members and mental health experts to understand the same.
Many IIT students — present and graduated — admitted that they usually do not have any set schedule to follow. While some end up missing the first (8 am) class due to lack of sleep, others rely on cups of coffee to stay awake during the lectures.
“I don’t actually have a schedule. Sometimes I sleep at 2 am or 4 am. On most days, I wake up around 8:30 am to show up for the 9 am lecture. Although my lectures begin at 8 am, I am generally unable to wake up in time to attend them,” says Deepanjana, a Mechanical Engineering student at IIT Kharagpur.
IIT-Kanpur professor Manoj K Harbola, in an article written for indianexpress.com, shared once he posed a question in his class on “how many students still follow the daily routine they had in school and only two of them raised their hands.” But why does the strong disciplined routine maintained through school life get changed?
The reason is a lack of free time during the day, due to a tight schedule. “Throughout the day we are busy with academics and laboratories, followed by clubs and meetings. So, whatever time is left for ourselves is generally at night. Sometimes, even club meetings are conducted late at night. We can’t compromise on self-development, therefore we compromise on sleep,” Deepanjana said.
Deepanjana is not the only one. Indianexpress.com runs a series ‘Life in an IIT‘ in which almost all students shared how they spend their late evenings, mostly playing or preparing for college events.
Sahil, a Physics student at IIT Delhi is also in the same boat. “My schedule is not fixed, it depends on what I am doing on that day. I am involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, and sleep between 1 am and 4 am,” he said.
Talking about how students are already aware and prepared for this culture, IIT Jodhpur expert added that students might struggle in the initial few months, but they quickly adapt to it.
“Students gradually find their balance,” says Prof Ankita Sharma, associate dean, students, IIT Jodhpur.
“IITs have a culture of encouraging students to be independent. We give them leadership opportunities as well, which they pursue in their own time, usually, after 5 or 6 pm. This became a culture and students are aware of it. However, as a psychologist, I understand that sleep deprivation can have a bad effect on students. But, as a part of IIT, I have observed that students gradually find their balance. I admit that for some the initial days are difficult but then it goes into a gradual sort of adjustment and most of them balance it out pretty well. IITs also talk to students about the importance of taking up activities that they really like, and ensuring that they do not overburden themselves just for the sake of trying everything,” said Prof Ankita Sharma, associate dean, students, IIT Jodhpur.
She also added that some students ensure they get enough sleep by resting their eyes whenever they get time during the day. Kushagra, a Computer Science and Engineering student at IIT Kanpur said: “Sleep is distributed, it may not be 7-8 hours at one go but students do catch up on their sleep during breaks and on holidays.”
IIT Delhi’s Sahil also added that he completes his sleep on weekends or on Wednesdays when the lectures end before lunchtime.
Increased mental health issues
Some students have also admitted that sleeping late or lack of sleep contributes to increased mental health issues in IIT students.
“I have this constant guilt of not sleeping properly, missing classes. Then, additional pressure to cover up for the classes I missed. There is no time during the day and I am constantly tired,” says Deepanjana.
“Not sleeping properly or on time is certainly harmful to my mental health” – Sahil, IIT Delhi student.
Former IIT Delhi director, V Ramgopal Rao believes that a lot of times IIT students miss out on lectures as they stay and wake up late. “Missing lectures means they will miss out on the parts being taught, which then adds to the pressure. When students realise that a lot of their work is getting piled up, they start worrying. Stress always increases when you know that you are not doing as good a job as you can. So, all of this (the heavy schedule, staying updated) is interrelated when it comes to mental health,” Rao said.
Mental health experts also believe that such a schedule can lead to inefficiency.
“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is crucial for the functioning of the body as well as being efficient and productive. Sleep is downtime for the body as our functions such as breathing, and digestion slow down during sleep and it is very important for us as well. Lack of sleep leads to a lack of productivity and inefficiency in carrying out day-to-day tasks. Also, when any individual is stressed out, the body gets into ‘flight or fight’ mode and gets stuck there. Hence, the resting mechanism of the body doesn’t function that well due to lack of space for it,” explained Akanksha Chandele, director, of I Am Wellbeing (Nairatmya Foundation).
Do late night canteens encourage staying up late?
Most IITs have either canteens open till late at night or they have small food joints where snacks are available 24X7.
Upon being asked if these night canteens aid the habit of staying up late at night, some students feel that it is an added advantage. “Availability of food at odd hours does lead to a comfortable environment for staying up late, but that is not the only reason. This convenience is given to us, assuming we are adult enough to judge things for the good,” said Aditya.
Other students believe it is the opposite. “The canteens are helpful, rather than the cause. We’ll have to store packaged things to eat, and order from outside if there is no canteen. And that would only increase the amount of money we spend and have severe health effects. The food from these outlets is mostly affordable, and best of all, fresh. So no, I don’t think that outlets are the cause of any stress,” said Sahil.
Who is responsible for this?
Students agree that it is not that they are unaware of what less sleep can do to them. However, they struggle to strike a balance between the transition period between coming from a tight schedule of JEE preparation to an environment of extra-curricular activities combined with competitiveness.
“It’s a trade of things” – IIT Kharagpur student
“In order to achieve something extra you have to sacrifice something, be it your sleep or leisure time,” said Aditya, an Electronics and Electrical Communication student at IIT Kharagpur.
Many believe that the extreme competition to reach the top spot and bag the best job offer is what leads to students enrolling in as many activities as possible, to ensure they can build a portfolio which is not just academically the best, but also helps them show an all-rounder personality.
“The environment here is very competitive. Every student is involved in multiple activities/events and is competing against each other. Everyone has only a certain number of hours in a day and you try to make the most of it by sleeping less. We are not forced to engage in these but it is important for an all round development. Such activities give you a platform to express yourself and pursue your interests,” said Sahil.
Kushagra admits there are multiple factors including friends, assignments, and club activities that take a lot of time and give very little time to students for themselves.
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IIT students believe a little more flexibility in the schedule could go a long way as they need to spend time in extracurricular activities and friends as they are crucial for self-development. Sometimes, assignments take over the weekends as well, making it even harder for students to balance everything. Some students have suggested reducing the number of assignments and more flexible class timings.
On the other hand, others like Aditya and Sahil feel, that students should learn to manage their time better and learn from their peers who are able to balance their time for all other activities as well as maintain sound physical and mental health.
Some experts also believe that it is important for IITs to improve infrastructure as the number of aspirants is increasing every year. “IITs usually have had the same infrastructure for years now. While the number of students (due to several quotas and policies) and courses are increasing, the lecture hall space and number of teachers are not increasing. That leads to some teachers having to opt for late evening lectures, which pushes the schedule of students to late night,” a former IIT faculty member said.