Posted by: barbaraplatts | September 5, 2011

The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep

In the midst of exhaustion this week, my thoughts began to wander from my homework to an issue that all college students seem to deal with on a daily basis: lack of sleep. Some have called college students the most sleep-deprived group, with 75% of us not getting enough sleep. This percentage seems high, but I notice the sleep deprivation all throughout my college campus. I see my fellow peers drooling on desks, falling asleep sitting up, complaining about their lack of sleep, and (probably the most impressive) dozing off with their eyes wide open. The funny thing about this is a large portion of the time you see these acts of sleepiness on display, the student has a cup of coffee sitting not too far away from them. Due to this problem that we all can relate to at some point or another, this post is dedicated to the activity we all know and love, but rarely indulge in: sleeping.

The study of sleep is relatively new. The information we have found out about it we have acquired in the last 25 years. According to the National Sleep Foundation, Americans average 6.9 hours of sleep on weeknights, which is technically not enough since the recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-8 hours and 9 hours for teenagers.

But why is sleep so important? Well, it gives your brain time to recharge from the day and your body time to repair cells and strengthen your immune system. Without enough sleep, one is more susceptible to illness, their pain tolerance is lower, they can become easily confused, and alcohol affects them much more. Being awake for 24 hours or more is the “cognitive equivalent” to being drunk.

With all of the available stimulants in our world today, it is often hard to tell if you are sleep deprived or not. A telltale sign is how long it takes you to fall asleep at night. It should typically take somewhere between 10-15 minutes. If you are snoozing within five minutes it means you haven’t been getting a sufficient amount of rest.

Often times, I like to judge the amount of sleep I get by how many REM cycles I enter in one night. REM is short for Rapid Eye Movement, because during this deep sleep the eyes tend to move quickly in different directions. When a person is in REM they are in an intense dream-like state because brain activity is increased. These cycles usually start after at least an hour of sleep and range from 10 minutes to an hour. Completing a full cycle takes 3-4 hours.

Adenosine is the chemical in your body that brings on sleepiness. When you miss those few extra hours of sleep at night, that sleepiness you feel during the day is due to adenosine still affecting your brain.

If you need a quick fix for the overload of adenosine in your system, a short power nap may do the trick. During a 30-minute nap, your body breaks down Adenosine, making you feel less sleepy. This short amount of time also gives your adrenal glands time to build up some cortisol so you can start using your adrenaline when you need it after the nap.

Photo by Isaac Mitchell

Short naps also help get your immune system back on track, which is particularly important if you have been sleep deprived for a while. Though be aware that the half an hour nap can’t solve all of your problems; it does not give adequate time to even enter a REM cycle and sometimes it will just make you drowsier for the rest of the day because you gave your body a taste of something it liked.

With so much going on in college, it is no wonder why students are known for getting the least amount of sleep. But this relaxing activity should not fall by the wayside. Try to keep track of how often you are getting enough sleep and make up for it when you fall behind. Even if you think you are at the top of your game, not resting enough for several days in a row will affect brain activity and could make you more susceptible to illness, so get the z’s you need to stay at your best.

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