There are certain practices that are familiar to all college students; chief among them being the “all-nighter.” In our hectic lives, sleep is often the first resource abandoned in favor of studying or hanging with friends. This is a real shame, because sleep is far more significant to an individual’s well-being than most people realize. In this post, I’m going to make the case for sleep, and ideally open a few eyes to the necessity of this forgotten practice.
Let’s start with the basics: what is sleep? A good night’s rest can be broken down into 5 phases, which are cycled through repeatedly as one sleeps. As we progress through these stages, the body moves into an increasingly deeper sleep, until finally reaching REM sleep. It is at this point that we experience dreams. So called “deep sleep” and REM are the most critical phases, and receiving an adequate amount of each is necessary to feel rested in the morning. In fact, if an individual is suddenly awoken during REM sleep, their body will instinctually move directly into that phase the next time the person sleeps. And while this is all fascinating, it isn’t entirely clear why we sleep. That said, the effects of sleep deprivation are evident and worrisome.
If you find yourself “cramming” before an exam, you may sacrifice sleep to spend additional hours poring over a textbook. And while the information you glean may be useful, you are simultaneously hurting your chances of performing well on the assessment by impairing your brain’s function. According to an alarming statistic from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver fatigue is responsible for an estimated 100,000 vehicle accidents and 1,500 deaths annually. Sleep-deprived people perform just as poorly, or even worse, than someone under the influence. What can we take from this? Sleep is not something worth giving up, especially in an academic environment.
But far more dangerous than the occasional restless night is long-term sleep deprivation. This term refers to individuals that repeatedly fail to obtain sufficient sleep over time frame of months or even years. Those that are sleep-deprived experience impaired brain function that typically repairs itself if given enough nights of quality sleep. However, if sleepless months develop into years, it is unclear if the brain can ever completely recover. And frighteningly, a person’s perception of their own tiredness levels off over time, meaning that you may be suffering from sleep-deprivation without realizing it.
It isn’t my intention to scare readers into action with these facts. Much the opposite, I have faith in the intelligence of my readers to interpret this information and apply it as necessary in their own lives. Because ultimately, just like exercise or studying, sleep is a resource that UD Honors students must subjectively value and balance over the course of their college careers.