What is sleep?
Living in a new generation of technology and exponential progress, there seems to be a general trend of students and teenagers sleeping less and less. Nighttime studying, pre- bedtime gaming, and midnight cellphone checks are taking a toll on more and more students. To assess the impact that all of these activities have on our sleep, we must consider a few questions: What is sleep? How does sleep help? And, do we really need sleep?
All scientists agree that sleeping always makes us feel revitalized. By definition, sleep is “a condition of body and mind such as that which typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is relatively inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended.” In other words, other than for basal functions, everything shuts down while we are sleeping. Then, why are studies now showing that only half of people in most countries are sleeping well? Is it because people are realizing that sleep isn’t as helpful as it is supposed to be? This question will be addressed in the next few sessions and it will shed some light on the importance of sleep to students.
How does sleep help?
The common belief about sleep is that sleeping just makes you feel better and the more sleep you get, the better you feel. Despite the oddity of the statement, there is actually quite a lot of truth in this common belief (along with some myths).
Instead of looking at the benefits that sleep brings, we will discuss the negative effects that stem from sleep deprivation, or the lack of sleep. Studies have shown that deficits due to sleep loss are evident worldwide and have cognitive (how we think), attention, and emotional impacts, as well as impaired motor functions (how we move), including irritability and impaired memory, coordination and concentration. In other words, sleep can affect our health, our school performance, and even our safety.
With a deficit in our cognitive performance, sleep deprivation can cause us to lose critical thinking skills, which could mean the difference between passing and failing a test. Not only will being sleep deprived make you tired all the time, it can make you feel less energetic, sleepy, and even confused, which would mean paying less attention in class, losing participation marks, and not being able to remember what the lesson was about. In addition to the academic problems, lack of sleep has shown to increase blood pressure, stress levels, risk of diabetes, obesity, seizures, hallucinations, and many other problems, all of which can be explained by studying the effects that lack of sleep has on the human body.
Do we need sleep?
From reading the previous passage, it seems pretty obvious that we need sleep. However, the question is still, how much sleep to do need and how can we sleep better? The interesting thing is that different age groups require different amounts of sleep. We all remember how babies seem to sleep anytime and anywhere, because their sleep is significant to their development. In the same way, students should try to get 9 hours of sleep, as opposed to adults who can run on 7 hours of sleep, in order to be on their top performance and to provide the benefits of not being sleep deprived.
Discussing the negative impacts of sleep deprivation and the necessity for sleep inevitably leads to the question: how can students sleep better? Here are a few things that can help students sleep better:
- Improve your sleeping environment
- Turn off all lights
- Avoid having blinking lights from chargers or computers
- Wear earplugs if there is background noise
- Try to regulate your sleeping schedule
- Try to get up and go to bed at the same time every day
- Avoid any stimulating activities before bedtime
- Avoid playing video games one to two hours before you sleep (the stimulation will keep the brain from relaxing and being able to sleep)
- Avoid doing physical activities such as exercising right before you sleep
- Avoid working on projects or homework just before you sleep (thinking about the questions will only delay the time it takes you to fall asleep)
- Avoid stressing over your day or about the future
- Stressing will only keep you thinking and using your brain, keeping you from relaxing and being able to sleep
Unlike most adults, students have a lot of free time on their hands, which means that they have a better chance of managing their time to allow them to sleep more. However, being the busy-bodies that they are, students seem to want to do 25 hours’ worth of things in a 24 hour day. This is why students need to understand that not sleeping is extremely bad for their academic and physical well-being. This is also why parents play a big role in the lives of students, being their moderator until they are mature enough to understand that lacking sleep is a nightmare waiting to happen.
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