The quintessential all-nighter is just as much a part of the popular college image as Greek Life and spring break bashes. It might almost seem like if you don’t pull at least one all-nighter in college, you’re not a truly dedicated student, or you haven’t had the true college experience.
We’ve been told since childhood that we need 8 hours of sleep to stay happy and healthy, but college seems to have disproven that. Or has it?
What many of us tend to forget in our packed schedules is that “able to function at a semi-normal level” is not “happy and healthy.” Jillian Oliver with Augusta University Student Health Services shares that “Being a student is a full-time job, and some students don’t have the luxury of only being students. With the need to optimize their waking hours, sleep is a precious commodity for students.”
Here’s why sleep is so important to not only college students, but everyone with busy lives.
Healthy brain function and emotional well-being
Have you ever had a weird dream? One of those that you’re not sure how exactly your brain conjured it up? Of course you have. Everyone does.
Believe it or not, odd dreams like we all have are our brain’s way of processing events that happened during our day. They’re kind of like our brain’s filing system—it’s deciding what to do with the memories and experiences.
This is extremely important for our brain to function healthily, but we can’t have the dreams we need to process events without entering REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the deepest layer of sleep.
It takes the average person roughly 90 minutes to enter REM sleep and the average adult should go through 5 to 6 REM cycles each night. If we don’t get this deep sleep, our body lacks the time to consolidate information and prepare for the next day.
The stages before REM are important too. They are where our body repairs itself, in everything from cuts and bruises to strengthening the immune system.
Daytime performance and safety
Because of all the important healing and processing we do during the various stages of sleep, getting enough quality sleep helps you function well throughout the day.
If you don’t get enough sleep, your school and work performance goes down. You tend to not process things as quickly, have a shorter attention span, and take longer to finish tasks. Your work will also likely be of lower quality and have more mistakes.
As far as safety, it’s been proven time and again in recent years that sleep deficiency takes away from your driving ability just as much as being drunk. Being sleep-deprived on the road can hurt
not only you and the passengers in your car, but also others around you, causing large-scale damage.
Make your sleep strategy
With all this in mind, now we know why it’s important to get enough sleep. But who has the time?
It might require some habit changing and some schedule rearranging, but it can and should be done for you to be at your happiest and healthiest.
1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Sometimes that’s hard, especially with work and assignments to get done, but try and keep this commitment. Doing this allows your body to set up a sleep-wake rhythm that helps you get the appropriate amount of REM sleep.
Ms. Oliver says, “Sometimes falling asleep is hard. Even if you have set your schedule up to give you your recommended 7 hours of sleep, that doesn’t mean you are going to fall right to sleep as soon as you lay down. You want to get into a routine of unwinding from the day to set your body up for a night of proper rest and relaxation.”
Try and keep this schedule on the weekends, too, even though that’s when we like to stay out late and sleep in. It’ll help you have a better Monday!
2. Have quiet time for one hour before bed.
Bright artificial light from televisions or phone screens tends to signal our brains that it’s time to wake up. To relax before sleeping, read a magazine or book. You could also take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques such as meditation.
“If you want to be asleep by 10 try to wind down by 9,” shares Ms. Oliver. “Try clearing your mind. You can do simple yoga poses or meditate. Some people like to unplug as a way to wind down. You really have to find what is right for you and your body. The goal is to fall asleep and allow your body to move into stage 3 non-REM sleep.”
Also, avoid strenuous exercise. Exercise increases the heart rate and blood pressure and stimulates brain activity, something you definitely want to avoid when you’re trying to fall asleep.
3. Pay attention to what you’re eating.
Heavy and large meals late in your day do not help you sleep. Laying down after eating a large meal can cause reflux and other uncomfortable symptoms. If you’re hungry, eat a light snack, and don’t skip breakfast the next day.
Also avoid caffeine and nicotine when you’re trying to wind down. Both of these interfere with sleep.
4. Have the right sleep environment.
Usually, you want your bedroom to be a cool temperature, be quiet, and be dark. Some people like to have white noise or ambient music to relax them. Just avoid music or other media that requires your brain to be engaged.
5. Be active during your day and regulate naps.
Exercise energizes your body and readies it for sleep the next night, so you can store up more energy for the next day.
Naps during the day can help you have that little boost of energy you need to get through the rest of the day, but they can also harm your sleep at night if not moderated. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, don’t take long naps and take the nap earlier in the afternoon. Adults should not nap for longer than 20 minutes.
Get started on better sleep!
“If you think you may be suffering from [a] sleep disorder, make an appointment at Student Health and we can refer you out to a provider who specializes in sleep disorders,” urges Ms. Oliver. Sleep is a massively important part of being a successful student and worker, no matter what media portrays. Just being able to accomplish your tasks is not a good indication that you’re getting enough sleep. You’ll be more energetic, present, and successful in your everyday life if you take the time to get proper sleep.