Let’s be real. Everybody loves sleep. That isn’t our problem. Our problem is the difficulty of having a structurally sound and solid sleeping pattern. Sleep is a vital ingredient to winning at college, and just like the neglected benefits of having great nutrition, it importance is widely ignored on college campuses across the U.S.
Sleeping well is a skill (but not the kind of skill like, “Dude, I slept in until 2 p.m. on Sunday”) — it’s important for restoration and growth of muscle tissue as well as reinforcing connections within the brain. That’s right — sleep will help your memory. This is why it’s better to get rest before a test than to freak out and pull an all-nighter (unless you haven’t yet learned anything at all). However, it’s sometimes difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Noisy roommates, staying up late, getting up early, caffeine and even alcohol can make your sleep less healthy.
But what is healthy sleep? It’s having the proper amount and quality of REM cycles and non-REM cycles throughout the night. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, which is the stage of sleep where, interestingly enough, your brain waves are closest to how they are when you’re awake. This seems counterintuitive because the REM stage is when your body does most of its repairing, and is often thought of as “deep sleep.” Next time you wake up, try to figure out if you were just in REM or non-REM. Here’s a hint: If it’s REM, you’ll feel like shit, and more sleep is the only thing that seems worth living for. If it’s non-REM, you’ll wake up and feel fine.
A problem with REM sleep is that it actually tires your brain, and its cycles increase in length throughout the night — first for only about five minutes, then to about an hour right before you should wake up. So, if you wake up in the morning after enough hours of sleep and close your eyes again, the next time you wake up you’ll likely feel even more tired, because the REM sleep is exhausting you. In fact, you’d be better off waking up and doing something relaxing. It’s actually important to not get more than seven to nine hours of sleep, as it can do more damage than good. And, also, if you don’t get enough sleep one night, you can’t make it up by sleeping more the next day. It just doesn’t work like that.
In order to have a healthy sleep pattern, it’s important to go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day. This seems pretty unreasonable, and it is. Some nights you’ll go out, some mornings you’ll sleep in, but for those days off from school and morning class, ideally you should wake up within an hour of when you otherwise would have awoken. This means waking at 8 or 9, if you normally have 8 a.m. class and going to bed at 11 or 12. Yes, even on Saturdays and Sundays. This will allow for consistent REM cycles throughout the week, and will make it easier to wake up in the morning, go to bed at night and feel refreshed and energized throughout the day. If you can, skip the alarm and get up right when you naturally awake — this will help you feel refreshed after a night’s sleep instead of sleeping for eight hours and then thinking, Why am I so tired? Also, try keeping the blinds open to wake with the sunrise. I know it’s painful, but it’s for your own good.
Proper sleeping habits should be something you pride yourself on, just like your exercise and nutrition. If you want to be healthy, sleep is the third piece of the puzzle. You’ll have better memory, you’ll absorb material more easily, you’ll be more awake throughout the day and you’ll feel better overall. Oh, and you’ll live longer! So do your best to sleep well and understand what sleeping well entails.
And as for hitting the snooze button? You’ll be even more tired when you finally find the motivation to get up … sorry.
Now that Daily Nexus columnist Kevin Ferguson has conquered the life trifecta of sleeping, eating and exercising, he’s working on a way to do all three simultaneously.