Work-free weekends should be mandatory, it’s science

Photo credit: Nicole Knopfholz Daitschman

Opening Blackboard at the end of a long week of classes to find a new assignment due Sunday can feel soul-sucking. Many students spend the whole week looking forward to relaxing and enjoying fun weekend plans, but instead often find themselves calculating how many hours of the break will be eaten up by work.

The expectation that students should be available to do schoolwork around the clock not only frustrates students, but plenty of scientific studies indicate it can detract from their quality of life and harm their short and long-term mental health.

I’m not suggesting that students blow off responsibilities or disregard any and all work over the weekend, but it is within reason to ask for more notice of due dates and due dates that make sense. Of course, students should still plan on dedicating a few hours over the weekend to writing a paper or brushing up on their presentation notes, but large, last-minute assignments can – and should – wait.

Students and professors alike should receive the courtesy of time away from school over the weekend. Especially when you live on campus, separating your work from your personal life can be challenging, and this boundary could help.

Last semester, one of my professors consistently assigned large modules throughout the week, giving us only one or two days to complete them and frequently making the deadline Sunday night. Why should I turn in an assignment at that exact moment if it will not be needed until class?

While establishing a Saturday or Sunday due date doesn’t necessarily force students to only begin working on the assignment over the weekend, it pushes the assignment down the priority ladder. Unable to prioritize these modules over other obligations and assignments due throughout the week, my roommate and I spent many Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings working our way through the assignments. While our professors might have been enjoying their weekends, we crammed these new assignments into our schedules at the expense of planned beach trips and other long-term projects we could have been working on.

Classrooms filled with people and technology can be incredibly overstimulating, and weekends should be a time to take care of yourself and reset. According to a study at the National Library of Medicine, “hard fascination,” or constantly refocusing to tune out nonstop stimulation, can cause brain fatigue. People relax in natural environments due to “soft fascination,” where the surroundings capture your attention while causing joy and allowing them to recenter.

Not only does nature provide a reprieve from stimulating environments, but the Cleveland Clinic indicates that being outdoors reduces cortisol levels, leading to tangible health benefits, including decreased inflammation, cardiovascular relief and a lower risk of mental health struggles. Too much cortisol can damage the structure and function of the hippocampus, leading to possible memory impairment.

Ironically, one of the times I felt most relaxed through all of the fall semester was right before finals. My friend and I made time to paddleboard at John Pennekamp State Park, and I didn’t have any modules on my mind.

Even while paddling for five miles into the wind, I felt calm and at ease. I happily embraced the lack of fluorescent lighting and whiteboards, instead watching the stingrays and nurse sharks swimming beneath my board. Instead of tuning out computers whirring or dragging my attention away from the crossword someone was filling out two rows in front of me, I could just enjoy my environment.

Another study published by the Journal of the National Sleep Foundation found that the time students dedicated to homework and studying on the weekends correlates to more severe symptoms of depression than work during the week.

These emotions are hard to pinpoint and quantify in studies, but I think that the longing to socialize and enjoy the day has something to do with it. No matter how much a student likes their classes, burnout is real and everyone deserves some time to spend how they please.

When put into perspective, ensuring students complete an assignment by Sunday at midnight seems inconsequential compared to the long-term impacts of extreme stress on the brain and body. Balancing school, homework and life takes getting used to, but if professors would truly give students the weekend off I am confident that most students would effectively reallocate their time.

Next time you see that dreaded Sunday night deadline, I challenge you to email the professor and kindly ask to extend the due date to the beginning of class. You and your hippocampus will thank me later.

Katie Karlson is a freshman majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology and minoring in sustainable business.