Once the school year begins in the fall, many students are assigned large amounts of coursework with tight deadlines. After inefficient study sessions, the solution that many students resort to is losing sleep. Now, is losing sleep really the healthiest option? Procrastination that leads to late night work sessions and all-nighters may seem appealing at first, however the sleep debt associated to these actions will harm your health and academic success in the long run. Sleep debt is the cumulative effect of lacking sufficient amount of sleep.
How does sleep debt affect you?
Sleep deprivation has several negative bodily outcomes associated with it. It increases the production of the hormones that are involved in the hunger response, while suppressing the hormones that allow the feeling of fullness, hence leading to weight gain. Lack of sleep also encourages the release of more stress hormones.
Another effect is an increase in blood pressure and the release of more chemical signals that induce an inflammatory response. In return, the risk of developing heart disease also increases. Sacrifice of sleep also leads to poor balance and coordination, thus allowing increased proneness to falls and physical accidents. A weakened immune system is also related to lack of sleep, which means possessing a heightened vulnerability to pathogens. Blood sugar levels will also rise due to the body’s inability to properly release insulin, which can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Sleep debt can affect your emotional state to the point where you feel moody, irritated and quick-tempered for long periods of time. A large amount of sleep debt can lead to serious emotional conditions, including chronic depression and anxiety. Furthermore, the human brain forms connections that allow for the processing and retention of new information during sleep. Lack of sleep does not give the brain a opportunity to form a sufficient number of strong connections, which results in a poor short-term and long-term memory.
Sleep also enhances the level of problem-solving, creativity and concentration skills, thus lack of sleep does not allow for this opportunity.
Students with sleep debt tend to struggle in their studies and have a higher tendency to fail courses than students with sufficient amounts of sleep. But the number of hours you sleep is not the only important factor to consider. Your sleep cycle also impacts your academic performance. Students that follow consistent wake-sleep times have proven to do better academically and emotionally than with students with a irregular sleep cycle.
Are you in sleep debt?
If you experience the following, it is highly likely that you are experiencing the symptoms of sleep deprivation:
- It is difficult for you to focus during class, to the point where you get drowsy or nod off.
- You feel drowsy during activities associated to leisure, such as watching your favorite TV show or playing games.
- You are not able to wake up until the second alarm rings
- You instantaneously fall asleep when you go to bed.
How do I avoid sleep debt?
The following are some tips to stay out of debt:
- Try to adjust your daytime schedule so that you can go to bed 15 min earlier and wake up 15 min later. This half hour will make a big difference to your level of awakeness.
- Try to cut back on the social media. Tech use has been associated to shorter sleep cycles, thus by taking one less social media break you can increase your chances of developing a sufficient sleep cycle.
- When scheduling classes, take into consideration all the options that are available to you. Enrolling in classes that are offered later in the day or even classes that offer online recorded video lectures may the appropriate choice for you if you tend to struggle with getting up in the morning. If you tend to wake up and go to bed early, it might be best for you to enroll in earlier classes. You need to reflect on your habits and plan according to that.
- Take a 20 minute nap. Studies show that taking a 20 minute nap is beneficial to increase your alertness and cognitive ability. Any naps longer than 20 minutes will just lead to a groggy and grumpy student.
- Set up a consistent and sufficient sleep schedule for yourself. A single night of poor sleep shows consequences the next day.
- Stay away from technology before you go to sleep. The blue light that is emitted from cellular devices as well as computers has shown to suppress melatonin, which is the hormone that regulates the body’s circadian cycle. If you absolutely need to use your tech devices, try turning on the night mode if it is available or download a blue light filter app.
- Try to keep the current time out of your sight. The more you worry about sleep deprivation, the harder it will be to actually fall asleep.
- Try some relaxation methods, such as meditation or yoga, before bed to destress and unwind. Attempting to sleep in a distressed state is difficult and can be impossible at times.
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