Snoozing your way to an A

Elizabeth Rund

Pulling all-nighters at the library can actually make students perform worse on tests than if they had a full night’s sleep. Photo illustration by Caitlin Prarat

Credit: DKS Editors

Pulling an all night study session before a test might help you remember a few scattered facts, but the sure-fire way to remember the most is to get a good nights’ sleep.

Sleeping is widely considered overrated by many students, but it is an absolutely necessary function of the human body. Like so many other vital functions, the brain also controls sleep.

The brain is by far the most powerful organ in the human body. Weighing in at around three pounds, the brain works faster than a computer, translating 100 trillion instructions per second.

According to the “Brain Power” episode of the Discovery Channel show “Human Body: Pushing the Limits,” the brain is most active at night.

As it begins to get dark, the brain releases a natural ‘sleeping pill’ called melatonin that makes us feel tired. After falling asleep, the brain performs a tune up. Brain cells that have worked all day are shut down for rest and repair. In some areas of the brain, new cells are created.

Without this rest and repair system, the brain would not be able to function properly.

There are five stages to the sleep cycle. The cycle usually lasts between 90 and 110 minutes and is repeated several times each night.

Although one might not initially feel the affects of an all night study session right away, going more than a day without sleep can have harmful effects.

• After 48 hours without sleep, the thought center is the first to give out. Concentration becomes difficult and silly mistakes are made. Performance of simple tasks becomes sloppy.

• After 72 hours without sleep the brain begins doing ‘damage control.’ Nonessential areas are shut down and a person will start to hallucinate. Imagining things and talking to inanimate objects is common.

• After 88 hours, or nearly four days without sleep, the brain takes control and forces the body to sleep.

The first stage is a light sleep where a person can be awakened easily. This is also the stage that is associated with a sense of falling and sudden movements. The second stage involves brain waves slowing and becoming steadier. The third and fourth stages are combined to form a deep sleep stage. In deep sleep, there is no eye or muscle movement. It is very difficult to wake someone who is in deep sleep.

The last stage is Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep. During REM sleep, breathing becomes more rapid and irregular while the eyes dart back and fourth. It is during REM sleep that our brain treats us to spectacular shows called dreams. Nerves and muscles are temporaliy paralyzed so dreams are not acted out.

Dreams are a type of filing system for the brain. During the day information is collected and stored in the temporary memory. It is only when the body is at rest that the brain can begin to sort through all of the information.

When a person dreams, he or she will dream in short bursts lasting only minutes at a time. The brain sifts through the days’ events and discards useless information and irreevant details. Dreams act as a bridge from temporary memory to permanent memory.

Stephen Laberge, director of the Lucidity Institute, explained that REM or dream sleep is when memories are consolidated. He said that it is clear that students who study and then sleep do better on tests as opposed to those who stayed up all night cramming.

Junior nursing major Michelle Waters said she agrees with Laberge.

“I study ahead. When I was a freshman I tried to do all-nighters and it didn’t work,” she said. “I do worse on tests if I don’t sleep.”

Waters adds that getting more sleep before a test allows her to remember more of the material she studied.

Sleep is crucial for memory, as this is the period when new things are learned. Since the logic center of the brain is shut off during sleep, thoughts collide and new ideas are formed. It is said that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was influenced by a dream.

In a single lifetime, a person can spend six years dreaming.

On average, an adult should have somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. When the sleep cycle is shortened or bypassed completely, the brain keeps a tally of the amount of missing sleep. This ‘sleep debt’ is very much like being overdrawn at the bank. At some point the brain will demand that the debt be repaid.

“The more sleep you get, the more refreshed you are,” said Julee Cariglio, a freshman business major.

To help students sleep through the night better, the American Sleep Association recommends setting a schedule and sticking to it. Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday, including weekends. Sleeping-in can re-set sleep cycles, making it harder to get up for an earlier class on another day.

The American Sleep Association also recommends daily exercise and avoiding caffeine and alcohol before going to bed.

To make the most of the hours spent asleep, Nicole Todaro, freshman zoology major, recommended studying in advance.

“I normally go and read over my notes everyday and do major studying the night before,” she said.

Waters seconds that advice, adding that reading through the textbook helps.

Contact features reporter Elizabeth Rund at [email protected].