Cambridge, USA: The boy who doesn’t sleep



After spending a relaxing year in the U.K., JESSICA CORSI thought she had re-acclimatized herself to Harvard Law School’s culture of crazed workaholism – until she came upon a 1L who likes to trade the refreshment of sleep for more reading. Is insomnia, she wonders, the secret to securing the Sears Prize?

HE EXISTS. I have met him. There is at least one 1L at HLS who has attempted to give up sleep.  And it shows.  The night we met, at a bar review at Grafton Street, he seemed to be fading in and out of conversation.  His eyes were closing slightly, his eyelids heavy even at his most alert and attentive.  He looked…sleepy. Perhaps he didn’t want to talk to me—I should be kind and give him an easy out.  “You’re either really tired or I’m boring you,” I said. 

“No, I’m not bored; I am actually really tired,” he explained.  “You see, I’ve given up sleeping.”  Genius! Insane! Insane genius? Typical 1L? All of the above? I had to learn more.

“No, come on. You haven’t given up sleeping,” I pressed.

“No, really,” he went on, his head nodding towards his chest.  “I have.”

“WHY?” I demanded.

 “Because I had to,” he replied.  “I didn’t do any reading the first part of the semester. So in order to catch up and not fail I need to stay up all night.”

I wasn’t following.  “But—wait—but—but we’re having this conversation in a bar. At 11:30pm. Why can’t you just—I don’t know, not go to bars instead?”  It seemed like a fair question. 

“That’s the thing,” he replied. “I just seem to waste time during the day.  So I need to stay up all night.”

I began to revise my notion that he was an insane genius, replacing it with the notion that he was just a person with poor time management who doesn’t understand the impact of sleep deprivation on information retention. “Well, okay,” I said. “So, could you try and do things during the day?”

“But I don’t.”

“Okay. So—really? You’re actually not sleeping at all?”

“I tried the no sleep thing two weeks ago.  I stayed up for about three days. And then as I was sitting there studying, I spontaneously fell asleep. I slept for 14 hours. And then I figured out that I couldn’t stay up indefinitely.”

Progress—he has discovered that it is impossible to stay up indefinitely and that insomnia is not an actual study strategy.  “Oh,” I nod, “So you’re actually sleeping now.”

“Yes. I’m on an every other day schedule.” 


“I’m on an every other day schedule. I sleep one night, stay up another night, sleep the next night…”

“And what is tonight?” I wonder. I hope it’s a sleep night; he’s already half there. 

“Tonight is a stay up night.” Wrong again; this does not bode well. 

“No, come on.”  “No, really.” “No.” “Yes!” 

“But—have you been drinking tonight?” I wondered, incredulous.

“Yeah, but I stopped a while ago because I knew I needed to stay up.” Oh. Right.  Of course.

“So how do you do it—how do you stay up all night?”  He was warming to the question. He looked almost awake as he was answering.  He had obviously put thought and planning into his scheme, and he seemed happy that someone had finally uncovered his secret.  “A lot of Red Bull! A lot of energy drinks. I stock up on those. And I eat. I’m going to eat right after we leave this bar.” “Like— what?” I ask. “Chicken wings?”  I’m a vegetarian.

“Yeah, chicken wings would be good.” Ew.

“So what else do you do to stay up?”

“I take smoke breaks—I’m a smoker.” He nods as he says this, like “Only smokers take smoke breaks.” I nod in response, of course. “So that helps; the smoke breaks help. And I have to go to my common room. I have to change locations and move around.  If I sit on my bed I’ll sleep.”


“Yeah—exactly. So I move around.  Yeah. I move around and take smoke breaks outside in the cold. It wakes you up.”

“And you actually think you’re learning things? I mean, you know that you learn best when you’re well-rested, right?” 

“Yeah, yeah,” comes the reply.  I don’t know which part he’s agreeing to.

I have finished my drink. We both want to go home, me to sleep, he to…not.  We walk back to our apartments, which are coincidentally  across the street from each other.   “I’m over there,”?I tell him. “I’m going home.” 

“I’m going to my motorcycle,” he replies.  “I’m driving to Porter Square to get a sandwich.”  Of course he is.  I walked up the steps of my apartment  and shook my head in confusion and amusement as he peeled away down Mass Ave. The things we do to outline Torts.  God bless 1L Fall.

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