On average, we spend a third of our lives asleep. Sleep is a fundamental and a crucial part of our lives. Some have the privilege of being able to sleep the “ideal” eight hours or perhaps more, while others sleep as little as four hours in order to accommodate the busy and strenuous life that has seemingly been brought onto us by the 21st century.
Students on the other hand will generally try to sacrifice sleep for partying, playing video games or studying and subsequently going to lectures half asleep or even not going to them at all. Why do we sleep? How much sleep can one get away with?
Surprisingly the function of sleep is still unknown, despite our rapidly increasing understanding of the processes involved in sleep. There are several hypotheses suggested by scientists as to why we sleep. It is suggested that sleep is needed for energy conservation and homeostasis, brain detoxification, and in the adult brain for learning and memory. There are two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM), and they are involved in memory consolidation and energy homeostasis respectively. REM sleep, where dreams occur, accounts for 25% of sleep, while NREM accounts for 75%.
Students in particular may be asking themselves if they are getting enough sleep and how much sleep is actually needed in order to be fully functional in daily life. Approximately 15 years ago, it was commonly thought that between four and five hours was enough sleep in order to have your cognitive performance remain intact.
However, that myth was contested by research conducted by David Dinges, Chief of the Sleep and Chronobiology department at the University of Pennsylvania. He took dozens of research participants and split them into three groups: those that slept four hours, six hours and eight hours, and this was done for two weeks.
Interestingly, their findings showed that those who slept four hours or six hours had their ability to sustain attention decline steadily with each passing day, whereas it did not for those who slept eight hours. By the end of the two weeks, those that slept six hours a day for two weeks were just as impaired as someone who was deprived of sleep for 24 hours – the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.
Although some may be partying away or intensely studying late into the night, there are also some who find it difficult to close their eyes and get a decent amount of sleep. Taking daily exercise and avoiding naps during the day will most definitely help you sleep. Losing certain habits before going to sleep and improving the environment one sleeps in will also be beneficial.
Smoking and consuming alcohol, a regular habit for certain students, will make it more difficult to get a good night’s rest. Creating a bedtime routine such as having a bath and drinking milk before bedtime and not watching the clock whilst in bed will invite drowsiness and make you feel less anxious about sleep. Avoid caffeine and eating big meals before going to sleep and it is important to have comfortable mattress and pillow.
Getting a decent night’s sleep is important for memory, recharging your batteries and general well being. Not obtaining enough sleep for long periods of time can be dangerous, especially in activities or careers which involve attention and alertness. Understandably, as a student, consistently getting eight hours of sleep may prove difficult, however every opportunity to obtain a good amount of sleep should not be missed.