As college students, we know the value of a sleepless night. It means finishing a paper last-minute, studying for a tough exam, or having a little too much fun at one of the many watering holes downtown. But as we’re in the midst of whatever it is we’re doing—class preparation or other—we don’t necessarily take into account the long-term consequences of sleep deprivation that will befall us sooner than we expect.
Of course, we understand the short-term consequences of our choices. We know how tired we’re going to feel that day or two. We know how much our productivity is going to decrease the next day. We know we might even risk sleeping through our alarm, but it’s fine because we got that take-home exam finished and submitted to eLearn on time.
Unfortunately, short-term sleep deprivation consequences aren’t all we’re in for. Sleep is imperative for good health and well-being throughout your life. Quality sleep can improve your mental health, physical health, and safety.
Take mental health, for instance. Sleep helps your brain function properly. While you’re asleep, your brain is categorizing and storing information you gathered throughout the day. It is forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information. It is replaying situations from the day, in the form of dreams. But when you skip out on proper sleep, your information-processing system is disrupted. Now, because of a few hours of sleep loss, activity in some parts of your brain are altered. You probably will experience difficulty when making decisions, solving problems, controlling emotions, and coping with changes. And on the topic of mental health: sleep deficiency has been linked to depression and risk-taking behavior. If you’re feeling uncharacteristically sad, lonely, or hopeless, chances are you should evaluate your sleep habits and make sure you’re getting enough shut-eye at night.
Now, what about physical health? Many students at Loras are athletes and know how important sleep is before a big game, match, invitational, or race. But rarely do we think about how sleep affects our workouts during the week. A bad workout if often chalked up to what you ate that day, your health, your mental state, or soreness from a previous workout. Rarely do we chalk a bad workout—or a consistent stream of bad workouts—up to how much sleep we’re getting. However, sleep is when our bodies perform a vast majority of muscle repair and building. During deep non-REM sleep and REM sleep, the body becomes immobilized (side note: this is why some people experience sleep paralysis, if they wake up during a REM cycle) as to not act out dreams, as well as allow the body to fully rest. Deep sleep allows your body to repair tissue and bones and strengthens your immune system. Depriving yourself of this important type of sleep can lead to decreased athletic performance, sickness, and even to potential injury if your muscles and bones are chronically deprived of full repair.
In addition to a worsened physical and mental quality of life, safety can become an issue for sleep-deprived people. Often, if someone doesn’t get a decent amount of sleep for a long time, their body will become “adjusted” to sleep deprivation and this feeling will become their norm. However, just because you feel “normal” doesn’t mean you don’t still need your sleep. Sometimes, the brain will force what is called “microsleep” in order to become a little less sleep deprived. Microsleep consists of brief moments of sleep that occur when you’re normally awake, but perceive to be “zoned out.” A person has no control over microsleep, but recall that they don’t remember what just occurred or how they got somewhere. Sometimes, this happens when you’re driving. Most people have experienced their brain going on “autopilot” where they’re driving, and happen to end up in a location with no recollection of the drive there. This is a mild form of microsleep, where your driving muscle memory takes over. More intense versions of microsleep are what make drowsy driving just as dangerous as drunk driving: it is estimated that driver sleepiness is a factor in 100,000 car accidents each year, resulting in approximately 1,500 deaths according to studies compiled by the U.S. Department of Health.
So, if this article hasn’t convinced you to get more sleep by (1) becoming less of a procrastinator, (2) not staying downtown until closing time, or (3) collaborating with classmates on large assignments to be more efficient with your homework, you can’t say you haven’t been adequately warned of the dangers of sleep deprivation. One or two nights isn’t going to be life-altering, as we all have these nights. It’s the consistent sleep deprivation habits that really should be altered.