Ask almost everyone what the best part of winter break is and they’ll say it was catching up on their sleep. We finally get a month where we can sleep late and wake up late, with many of us getting as much as eight to ten hours of sleep each night. It’s no wonder then that we are more awake, more refreshed and just seem to be in a better mood over break; and no, it’s not because we don’t have any homework or exams to worry about. It’s because of sleep.
I used to think that getting five to six hours of sleep each night was more than enough. Yeah, I’d get tired towards the end of the week, but who doesn’t? It turns out that sleeping not only helps us rest our bodies, but also aids in enhancing memory, reaction time, and simple survival.
A study done at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine had volunteers spend one and a half weeks in a dimly lit hospital suite. They had to stay awake until 4 a.m. and were woken up at 8 a.m. for five nights in a row. With the use of electrodes, brain activity was monitored with tests that were done to measure the effects of partial sleep deprivation.
David Dinges, the scientist in charge of the study, stated that there is an impairment that immediately starts because of the lack of sleep, affecting the ability to think, react, and remember. “Each day adds an additional burden or deficit to your cognitive ability,” said Dinges in the book, “Curious?: Discover the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life.”
What happens when we do get sleep? Matthew Walker, director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley has put more than 400 people through a test that anyone can do to show that sleep enhances memories to the extent that a person who is well-rested will perform better than the day before. He had everyone memorize a sequence of numbers such as 4, 1, 2, 4, 3 by writing them down continuously for some time. Some learned the sequence in the morning and were tested 12 hours later to see how well they learned it. Their performance stayed the same. Others learned the sequence later in the day and were tested after a good night’s sleep. Surprisingly, their performance increased by 20 to 30 percent.
“It seems to be that practice does not quite make perfect; it’s practice with a night of sleep that makes perfect,” said Walker to CBS News.
The interesting (or frustrating) thing about sleep is that we all need it, regardless of that organic chemistry or physics test coming up. We need at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night, according to Walker.
A study conducted in the 1980s consisted of keeping rats awake indefinitely for five days. After only five days, they started dying…from sleep deprivation. Walker stated to CBS, “Sleep is as essential as food because they will die just about as quick from food deprivation as sleep deprivation. So, it’s that necessary.”
Sleep is vital. Period. As impeding as a test may seem and as behind as you are on finishing an essay, sleep deprivation won’t help. Instead of staying up until 5am and finishing only a page and a half, take a two hour nap and I promise, your work efficiency will surprise you. Sleep tight!