What time did you hit the sack last night? Did you wake up bleary-eyed, hung-over and cringing at the incessant beeping of your maddening alarm clock? Has the snooze button become your new best friend? Welcome to college – where sleep is a class-skipping indulgence.
The average college student sleeps about seven hours per night, while the typical requirement for adults is eight hours per night. Obviously, everybody knows the atypical person who functions just fine on four hours per night, or the bum who needs 12 hours. It is a relatively high priority for most, however, to economize the amount we sleep.
Scientists have been studying sleep for centuries, but the wonders of our nighttime slumber are still just starting to be understood. What we do know is sleep is broken down into five cycles, each about 90 minutes, and with alternating periods of quiet deep sleep and active rapid eye movement sleep.
Much of our time sleeping is spent dreaming. We dream during REM and non-REM sleep, but dreams during REM are much more vibrant and fantastical. You might be flying on a broomstick with Dumbledore or directing the winning Super Bowl drive. Everybody has dreams – some people just have a difficult time remembering them in the morning. The most vivid recollection of dreams comes when we are awoken in the middle of REM sleep.
For those who turn to alcohol before a night of rest, there are several implications for your actions. Scientists claim a glass or two of wine will certainly help you doze off but will most likely result in a much lighter sleep over the course of the night than a sober slumber.
While it may be tempting to shave one hour off the total amount you sleep every night, the repercussions are drastic. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who slept less than six hours a night for two weeks performed as poorly on cognitive tests as they would have had they been totally deprived of sleep for two days. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates a driver is four times as likely to suffer an accident when drowsy. Tests have shown that not only will a lack of sleep impair one’s motor functions and cognitive abilities but also one’s immune system. Sleep researchers at the University of Chicago gave flu vaccinations to twenty-five patients who had slept only four hours a night for six nights, and found their antibody response was less than half that of normal sleepers.
The great dilemma facing students throughout their education is the balance between sleep and studying. The night before a test we are often confronted with the temptation of a good night’s rest versus the potential gains of a hardcore night of cramming. While the research is somewhat conflicting on the issue, the conclusion I reached after reading much of the literature is simple. If you want to do well on a test in which you are totally unprepared, your best bet is to stay up and study. However, if you are, for example, studying to become a doctor, and you actually need to know the information in the long-run, then you better get a good night’s sleep. One theory behind the function of sleep is it helps us create permanent memories.
As college students, it is certainly difficult to establish a regular sleeping pattern or get the requisite eight hours every night. Your best bet is essentially twofold. First off, don’t discount the effects of a good night’s sleep on your overall productivity, mood and health. It will benefit you more in the long-term if you get that extra hour. Secondly, the most economical way to shave time in bed is to nap regularly. The scientific community once scorned naps, but in recent years it’s been shown naps yield far more benefits proportional to the amount of sleep. To maximize their effect, try to take a 15-20 minute nap between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. This will limit the typical grogginess associated with naps, but will also be extremely beneficial to you. Those Europeans with their laid-back lifestyles and damn siestas are proven right once again.