Shawn Mercer is a sophomore integrated life sciences major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]
With finals week approaching, many of us will be pulling all-nighters to prepare for our exams. We stay up in order to finish a paper, play video games or party with friends. Unfortunately, all of this sleep deprivation could be hurting us, or even killing us.
Sleep has a bad reputation; many people are of the opinion that there are much better things to do and that sleeping is a telltale sign of laziness or simply a waste of time. This is simply not the case. Sleep does not occur independently of our waking hours. Without proper sleep, we can’t be happy, functioning people.
Sleep affects mood. The brain is kind of like the Internet, and sleep controls bandwidth. When we do not get enough sleep, our brain’s higher functioning is inhibited. In other words, without sleep, we operate more like an alligator than a person.
Sleep affects aging. Aging is essentially the breakdown of the machinery that allows you to live. Sleep is the time when your body is able to repair damage incurred during your waking hours. Without proper sleep, the dings and cracks in the machinery build up and aging occurs prematurely.
Sleep keeps you healthy. Sleep deprivation is a stressor on the body. In response to stress, your body releases hormones that promote the storage of fat. Additionally, sleep deprivation also reduces insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance, sleep-caused or not, may contribute to the accumulation of fat in a similar way to how Type 2 diabetics gain weight.
Sleep helps you learn. The brain is made up of millions upon millions of pathways. When you learn something new, you build upon the pathways in your brain. During your waking hours, new information is held in your short-term memory, and while you sleep, the new pathway is established more permanently into your long-term memory. This is why pulling an all-nighter is not doing you any favors.
This leaves us with the question of how many hours of sleep are needed. This depends on you. Everybody is different; some people need as few as six hours of sleep, and some people may need as many as ten. A good way to make sure you get enough sleep is to stop using an alarm clock. Go to bed early several nights in a row, and the number of hours you sleep should normalize. You should be able to get a good idea of how many hours of sleep your body needs — and yes, your body needs to sleep.
Getting enough sleep makes you feel awesome. There is nothing quite like waking up without the screech of an alarm clock and with the sun shining in through the window. Waking up right when your body wants beats fighting drowsiness any day. Getting the amount of sleep your body needs makes waking up just that much better.