Getting your Zzz’s: More important than you think

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By Martina Glab

Whatever the case, it is inevitable that a vast majority of college students will experience insufficient sleep sometime during their four years at school. According to a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 63 percent of college students do not get a sufficient amount of sleep. With the high demands of academics, work and extracurricular activities, students juggle a variety of weighty responsibilities in their daily lives. In the society that we live in, it can be a difficult task to get enough sleep.

However, very few students are aware of the heavy toll sleep loss takes on physical and mental health. While many have acknowledged the short-term consequences of a night or two of missed sleep, few realize what the potential long-term effects could mean.

Because most of us have been in these kinds of situations, we are all aware of how we may feel right after a night of little or no sleep. But why do we even need sleep to begin with?

While sleeping, the human body works to repair all of its injuries, strengthening any damaged cells and tissues in the body. The brain, in turn, does a bit of “housekeeping,” organizing long-term memory and new information. It promotes emotional stability and decision-making skills as well as your ability to cope with change and stress.

Additionally, sleep allows the brain to not only process information more efficiently, but also to store it for longer periods of time; when you are learning how to calculate derivatives or improve your golf swing, for example, studies have shown that sleep improves your abilities with time.

Although there is continuous research being done on the nature of sleep, researchers strongly believe that it is an integral part of maintaining one’s physical and mental health. As you can probably tell, sleeping has a lot of perks. But what is it about our late-night get-togethers and all-nighters that could possibly hinder us from reaping all the benefits?

When the issue of sleep deprivation arises, our bodies fail to completely renew any internal processes or damages. It can affect growth and hormone regularity. Furthermore, regular bouts of inconsistent sleep can have a negative impact on your breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Based on one 2011 study from John Hopkins University, scientists found that just two nights of poor sleep can dramatically shrink and harm blood vessels.

All of these immediate effects of sleep loss contribute to significantly more serious health complications in the long-term. Elevated heart rate, higher blood pressure and the overproduction of hormones (like insulin) can open the door for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Because of a weakened immune system, we are twice as likely to give into infection and disease while our ability to treat various contagions gradually wanes.

While the physical consequences are clearly very problematic, the mental costs of limited sleep are equally significant. One serious effect on the human mind is memory loss. While sleep works to consolidate working and long-term memory, sleep deprivation does the opposite. It can distort one’s memory, leading to poorer performance in school. While sleep enhances the ability to foster and sustain information, the lack of sleep deteriorates new information, leading to slower and poorer learning.

Perhaps all this information may leave you with some degree of concern. Or if not, perhaps you may think to yourself that there are alternatives available to help deal with fatigue. Certainly, there are a variety of available stimulants in the form of energy drinks that may leave you to think you are getting away with all that sleep you missed. However, time and time again, researchers have said there is simply no substitute for sleep. As stated by sleep researcher Dr. Raymond Jean, “Many things that we take for granted are affected by sleep. If you sleep better, you can certainly live better. It’s pretty clear.”

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