“Sleep is for the weak” and “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” used to be my life mottos until I realized the complete opposite was true. Recent findings confirm the recommendations that have been passed down from our parents and doctors. Sleep is crucial for an optimal mood, immune system and cognitive performance.
Unfortunately, as students, sleeping is one of the factors of our lives that constantly changes. Spend a late night at the library and you’re destined to hear the ever omnipresent, “Shoot, I have a midterm coming up! Looks like I’ll be hitting the sack at 4:00 a.m. instead of midnight.”
Researchers at UCLA recently discovered that a region in the brain, the entorhinal cortex, behaves as if it is remembering something even while the body is sleeping. The study analyzed nerve cells in the brain involved in memory formation and appeared in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
“The big surprise here is that this kind of persistent activity is happening during sleep, pretty much all the time,” Mayank Mehta, professor of neurophysics and lead author of the study, said.
Previous studies focused on the neocortex and hippocampus brain regions, but the entorhinal region is fascinating because it mediates temporary memory formation like memorizing a phone number. Even when subjected to anesthesia, the brain was unexpectedly active in this region as if it was in the process of remembering something.
In another study conducted at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Quebec, Canada, researchers found children that received adequate sleep were less impulsive and irritable than the students that were sleep-deficient.
Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., commented, “We know that sleep deprivation can affect memory, creativity, verbal creativity and even things like judgment and motivation and being [engaged] in the classroom.”
At the annual Society for Neuroscience conference, held Oct. 13 to 17, some scientists even suggested that those with consistently poor sleep habits were potentially more susceptible to the formation of Alzheimer’s disease. Though researchers would like to further study the link before making definitive conclusions, the Massachusetts General Hospital study measured brain activity and found subjects that were sleep-deficient were harming their brain’s ability for optimal coordination.
Using a laptop late at night is known to disrupt our natural circadian rhythms in addition to our melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate our sleep cycles.
Tonight, I urge you to try something different. Instead of checking all your notifications and “liking” those 5,000 posts on Facebook before going to bed, shut down that computer an hour early. I promise you’ll hit that mood-enhancing REM sleep much faster.
Here’s the bottom line: You will never be healthy if you do not sleep sufficiently. It’s essential for your vitality. I now live by my new mottos: Lack of sleep will make me weak, and if I don’t sleep, I’ll be dead.