Our Viewpoint: Sleep Deprivation — Why is it cool?

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, February 21st, 2018 at 7:04 PM

Other than warm human bodies half-dozing off in their desks, the most common items in an 8 a.m. class are Starbucks, or for the more economical, Tim Horton’s coffee cups. Four weeks into the stress of juggling four to five to six classes, and for many, a job on top of that, university life is starting to affect sleep schedules. I overheard this conversation: 

“You went to sleep at 10!? Do you want to fail this class?” 

The early sleeper only smiled sheepishly, but it’s the tone that the speaker used to address his classmate that puzzled me: why is it that sleep deprivation is cool on college campuses? 

You don’t go a day (or sometimes a class) without hearing one student or another boast about how they only got four hours of sleep (or perhaps more concerning, no sleep) last night because they stayed up late to study. 

And these late-night study sessions, fueled by caffeine, energy drinks, or other stimulants seem to pay off for the students; they’re the high achievers, the “straight As,” the “have their lives together” students, right? 

Most likely not. 

In a study published in 2017, a group of researchers at Harvard College tracked the sleeping habits of 61 students over the course of 30 days. They found that students who regularly went to bed and woke up at the same time had on average a 0.10 higher GPA than their counterparts who retired at random times throughout the night. 

And it’s not just GPA that suffers. People who get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep a night report higher stress levels, more moodiness, and a hard time paying attention throughout the day. 

Then why do so many people — especially students — glorify the kid who always seems like he/she could use a good night’s rest? 

The sleep deprivation myth that circulates around college campuses basically equates less sleep with a greater amount of productivity. It says you can enjoy your days and use the night hours to do actual work. But that idea neglects the fact that the circadian rhythm — which is our body’s internal biological clock — associates light with daytime or work, and the absence of light with nighttime or sleep. 

When we pull “all-nighters” and expose ourselves to the light of a computer screen, or the light from a lamp, we mess up the biological clock, making it feel like it’s still daytime and thus setting it back hours on end. 

According to one of the researchers who worked on the Harvard study, “it can make an 8 a.m. class feel like it’s really occurring at 5 a.m.” 

Staying up late at irregular intervals throughout the semester can also feed into the myth that cramming all night to study for an exam is effective. 

But it’s also understood that for some students, after going to school, working, and for some, taking care of the kids all day, the only time left for studying are the wee hours of the night. 

For those students, there’s some good and bad news. The study found that to combat that heavy drowsy feeling that you get after a late night, night owls must be regular about the time that they wake and sleep. Meaning, if you’re going to study until 1 a.m. and get up at 6 a.m., you’d better keep that routine up for the entire week. Yes, even on the weekend when you really want to sleep in. That regular routine will slowly change the stimuli that affects your circadian rhythm.  

But if you can avoid this pattern, it’s better to get sleep when sleep is due. 

So what steps can you take to fix a broken sleep schedule? 

1. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day.

2. Wind down about an hour before getting to bed.

2A. The light from your phone, computer, or television can affect your sleep patterns and getting into a routine every night will prime your brain to associate your actions with sleep — helping you doze off much faster. 

3. Spread your school work out over the week.

3A. Getting things done in smaller increments of time will leave you feeling less stressed, increase the quality of your work and keep some hours of your day open for hanging out with friends and relaxing. 

Sleep deprivation seems glamorous to the outsider, but when you weigh the costs versus the benefits, is it really worth it? 

Shayma Musa can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

Tags: voices, viewpoint

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