We’ve all heard it, the phrase that is becoming the proverb of our generation: “You can sleep when you’re dead.” Sometimes it genuinely feels like we, as overburdened and overwhelmed college students, have to make the choice between getting the sleep that our bodies are begging us for or spending quality time with your friends or with your homework.
At this point in our lives, time is our greatest resource. And we are constantly making decisions about how to allocate this resource. But at least for me, when it feels like I’m getting pulled in fifteen different directions by various responsibilities and individuals, sleep generally gets put on the back burner. It is really easy to justify putting other responsibilities or activities in front of sleep because it seems like there’s always something better or more important to be doing. But this past week, I had the enlightening experience of sleeping through my alarm every single morning. No matter how loudly or how frequently my phone screamed at me, there was no waking me up on time.
Despite being disgruntled, disoriented and just generally frustrated that I had wasted more than my average amount of time sleeping, I realized that my body was sending me a message. As inconvenient as it is to not be super-humans that can naturally function on only a few hours of sleep a night, the fact of that matter is that during sleep, our bodies are able to recover and recharge.
Our bodies do actually have internal clocks that are largely controlled by changing levels of chemicals that control when we feel awake and when we need to sleep. Although there are some physical cues such as the amount of light that we are exposed to and the amount of human interaction that we are confronted with, these chemicals largely control our sleep cycle. Most people have a sleep schedule that conforms to a 24-hour rhythm known as the circadian rhythm. We have engineered many ways to interfere with this rhythm — ahem, caffeine. When left alone to function naturally, our bodies would largely control themselves, forcing us to sleep and to wake as necessary.
Many of us live in a constant state of sleep deprivation. But if our sleep debt — the total amount of sleep lost each night — gets too high, our bodies lose their ability to perform crucial functions. While sleeping, our bodies are able to repair and build bone and muscle and strengthen the immune system. During REM sleep, the brain is almost as active as when we are awake and some of the major muscle groups become paralyzed to keep us from acting out our dreams. These things can’t happen if we aren’t getting enough sleep and, interestingly enough, studies show that people don’t ever adjust to getting less sleep than is necessary.
Sleep deprivation has been proven to decrease the cognitive capacity of the brain and can impair our ability to make decisions. So when we’re cramming for a test, we’re actually being really counterproductive as well as unhealthy.
It’s that time of the semester. Everything has settled in, the weather is starting to heat up, friendships are really tight and, inconveniently enough, it is getting to be about crunch time in school. Let’s remember to take care of ourselves, Rams. Because if you don’t take the initiative and sleep in normal intervals at the appropriate times, our bodies will make that decision for us at the most inconvenient of times.
Geneva Mueller has recently discovered the beauty of sleep. Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We get lost in the hustle of our everyday lives, and tend to lose out on sleep.
Your body need REM; you will function a lot better.
Take care of yourself, or your body will decide to do it for you.