Cutting Back on Sleep a Self-Defeating Strategy

Published: December 4th, 2006

Category: News Briefs, Students

Whitney NoblesEight hours of sleep a day seems like a colossal waste of time, doesn’t it? After all, in the hectic world of university life, those precious hours could be put to use responding to all those emails or hitting the books.

 So why is sleep important and why do we need so much of it? Many students cut back on sleep to finish ever mounting piles of homework, but it could be a self-defeating strategy. Harvard Medical School researchers have found that people who stay up all night after learning and practicing a new task show little improvement in their performance. The study also suggests that no amount of sleep on the follow ing two nights can make up for the toll taken by the initial all-nighter.

 Lack of sleep has also been linked to poor school performance, difficulty consolidating memories, a shorter life span, and even increased weight gain. Sleep deprivation causes hormonal changes that can lead to an increase in weight and a slower metabolism. Researchers have also found that adults need at least eight hours of sleep to function at their highest potential. Even if you feel that you can get less sleep and still have high levels of performance, this is not the case.

Although we are not sure why we need sleep, multiple studies have shown the importance of a good night’s rest, especially for students. An interesting fact is that in dream sleep the brain is actually very active. No one is sure exactly what dreams accomplish, but some experts believe that dreaming is actually some kind of “cleansing” process. Other sleep researchers think that dreams serve the function of helping to reorganize and store psychological information taken in during the day.

Lack of sleep clearly affects our thinking. For example, we can per- form calculations, but not as quickly. We’re much more likely to make errors. Sleep deprivation also affects us physically. Our coordination suffers and we lose our ability to do things with agility. Additionally, sleep improves muscle tone and skin appearance. Consider sleep as part of your overall wellness. Don’t feel guilty, you are doing yourself a favor.

Some tips to try to promote restful sleep:

• No reading or watching TV in bed. These are waking activities. Go to bed when you’re sleepy-tired, not when it’s time to go to bed by habit.

• Start slowing down during the second half of the evening before bedtime. Ninety minutes before bed, don’t get involved in any kind of anxiety provoking activities or thoughts.

• Do some breathing exercises or try to relax major muscle groups, starting with the toes and ending with your forehead.

• Your bed is for sleeping; if you can’t sleep after 15-20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing.

• Have your room cool rather than warm.

• Don’t count sheep, counting is stimulating.

• Exercise in the afternoon or early evening, but no later than three hours before bedtime.

• Don’t over-eat, and eat 2-3 hours before bedtime.

• Don’t nap during the day.

• If you awake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep within 30 minutes, get up and do something else.

• Listen to calming music