We’ve reached the beginning of March, and the too-familiar pressure of midterms is upon us again. But despite the looming horror of my Greek exam tomorrow morning, as soon as I finish writing this, I am going back to sleep. And this time, I have an excuse besides my inherent laziness. Actually, five excuses. So fluff up your pillows and get ready to turn off your nightlight (i.e. laptop), because these five facts may forever change how you think of sleep.
1. Naps make you smarter.
Sleep not only makes us less tired, but also increases the brain’s ability to learn new facts in the time after waking. A California study tested the affectivity of naps on a group of students. The students performed a series of learning tasks intended to target the hippocampus (the part of the brain that stores facts), such as matching up certain faces with names. At 2 pm, half of the group took a 90-minute nap, while the rest of the group remained awake. Later at 6 pm, the group that had napped earlier performed much better on another series of similar tests than those who stayed awake. Researchers concluded that the nappers actually improved their potential to learn while they were asleep because sleep is necessary to clear the brain’s short-term memory bank in order to learn new information. Which leads me to…
2.All-nighters won’t help you come morning.
In fact, the sleep that you lose by staying up all night is enough to reduce your ability to retain information by up to 40%. Sleep deprivation is so taxing that certain parts of your brain will temporarily shut down just to get some relief. Like I said earlier, fact-based memories are stored for a short amount of time in the hippocampus before the brain moves them into the prefrontal cortex, which holds long-term memory. The longer you stay awake, you place more strain on your hippocampus and the more sluggish you become. Eventually, the hippocampus reaches a point when it can take no more, as it cannot move any information into the prefrontal cortex without sleep. Once you reach this point, any studying or cramming that you do is essentially worthless.
3. We are biologically programmed to nap.
Humans are mammals, and like all mammals, evolved to sleep for short periods throughout the day. But as our species began to focus more on productivity and structure around specific goals instead of just trying to live day to day and not starve/be killed by saber-tooth tigers, we discovered we could consolidate all of our sleep needs for the day into one big block (and so bed-time was born, much to the disgruntlement of children everywhere who wanted to stay up for “just ten more minutes!”). Naturally, our bodies still want to return to the way they intended for us to rest: in two waves, one in the early morning or about 2-4 am and one in the afternoon, around 1-3 pm. So you can no longer blame Val for the post-lunch food coma that knocks you out during your afternoon lecture; this sleepiness will occur whether or not you eat a heavy lunch or even nothing at all. So that you don’t end up with pen marks on your cheeks from sleeping on your attempt at note taking (been there), drink a cup of coffee, then take a quick nap before class. The caffeine takes 20-30 minutes to kick in, and by the time you wake up you’ll feel twice as re-energized.
4. Sleep deprivation is like eating cheeseburgers and doing shots (but in a bad way).
Research has shown that women who sleep five hours or less per night report more weight gain that women who slept seven hours per night. Oddly enough, the women who slept less didn’t gain weight because they ate more—in fact, they often ate less that their well-rested counterparts. But what their lack of sleep did do was to reduce production of the hormone leptin. This reduction causes the body to crave more carbohydrates, and then additionally disrupts the body’s ability to metabolize said carbs. This in turn leads to high blood levels of glucose and insulin, and a greater body-fat storage in the long run. Additionally, it only takes seventeen hours of continual wakefulness to lead to a decrease in physical coordination and mental performance equivalent to a 0.05% blood alcohol content. Would you pregame before a chem test? Unless it’s a special occasion, I’m going to go with no. And think that after a week of cramming you’ll go ham to celebrate finishing this chem test? Think again: after five nights of even partial sleep deprivation, three drinks will have the effect of six on your exhausted body. So hit the sack before you hit the Socials.
5. College should come with scheduled naptime.
I’ve been compared to a kindergartener more times than I care to mention, but I will admit that these accusations are correct in one respect: teenagers still need as much sleep as young children, around ten hours. Once you hit the 25-55 demographic, sleep needs drop down to about eight hours, but until then, anything less than ten is deprivation of necessary fuel (like animal crackers and juice boxes). In fact, losing sleep has a much more significant detrimental effect in the 18-24 age bracket than it does on other age groups. Work so hard that you’re not even tired when you try to nap? No worries, British researchers have found that the relaxation that comes from lying down with the intention of napping lead to a drop in blood pressure and other positive effects.
So put down those books and stop crying over that problem set. Naps can’t help you memorize ten chapters in one night, but let’s face it, if you’re at that point, you’re basically screwed anyway, so you might as well enjoy your sleep.