Arguments Regarding The Importance Of Sleep In College
College is typically the prime time in life. With exams, clubs, and work, many students find themselves overwhelmed with responsibilities. Sleep soon becomes a luxury instead of a necessity and before they know it, the phrase “sleep is for the weak” defines their poor sleeping schedule. That brings us to these questions: what does sleep do and what makes sleep important? To explain why sleep is important, psychologists came up with three theories: circadian rhythm theory, restorative theory, and consolidation theory. They theorize that sleep keeps us away from harm, helps restore our functional body, and strengthens our memory.
Early scientists believe that sleep is an adaptive behavior, meaning that it has a biological purpose and was derived from the change in our environment to increase our chances of survival. According to the circadian rhythm theory, sleep revolves around our biological clock and has evolved as a way to protect us from harm (Grison & Gazzaniga, 2019, p. 106). It is natural for animals to stay inactive and away from predators when they are not doing anything necessary for survival, such as looking for food. For example, small animals such as rabbits spend a lot of time sleeping in their hiding place and away from predators. Because humans are highly dependant on our vision, humans have adapted to sleeping at night since we are the most vulnerable during that time. However, the circadian rhythm theory is just an instinctive explanation of the importance of sleep. In fact, research suggests that there is no correlation between species’ predatory risk and the amount of sleep they get because some prey animals adapted to stay conscious for longer periods in cases of danger (Capellini, Barton, McNamara, Preston, & Nunn, 2008).
The restorative theory states that sleep lets the brain and body rest and repair itself. During deep sleep, growth hormones are released from the endocrine system which helps the body repair damaged tissues (Grison & Gazzaniga, 2019, p. 106). This theory explains why people fall into a coma after a traumatic brain injury as sleep is critical for the body to repair itself. Furthermore, research has shown that sleep helps fortify our immune system. When we sleep, the body produces cytokines which are essential to the function of T-cells (Asif, Iqbal & Nazir, 2017). T-cells are cells from the immune system that are responsible for combating infections. In the TED talk, “Sleep is your power”, Matt Walker conducted a study testing how lowering one’s sleep to four hours a day can impact the activity of the immune system. The study concluded that there was a 70% drop in immune cell activity from one night of inadequate sleep (Walker, 2019, 10:40). When sick, sleep is integral to maximize the efficiency of the body’s ability to repair.
Lastly, sleep helps strengthen our memory. Memory is formed by processing and encoding external information and storing that information for future access (Grison & Gazzaniga, 2019, p. 252). The consolidation theory states that sleep allows our collection of information in our brains to strengthen and promote learning (Grison & Gazzaniga, 2019, p. 106). Through the process of consolidation, the newly formed neural connections become lasting memories. In addition to consolidating memory, sleep also prepares the brain to absorb information the next day (Grison & Gazzaniga, 2019, p. 106). This theory explains why it is unwise to stay up all night studying before an exam. To prove this, Walker conducted another study with two groups of individuals: one that slept and the other did not. The groups were then tasked to see how well they can remember a list of facts the following day. Figure 1 shows that the sleep-deprived group was 40% less efficient at learning and making new memories than the group that slept (Walker, 2019, 3:08). As a result, it is more beneficial to study in multiple short sessions and let the information you learned to consolidate while you are asleep. In summary, losing adequate sleep could impair mental and academic performance.
Reflecting upon my sleeping habits throughout my life, I definitely see the necessity of getting enough sleep. As a typical university student, the average amount of sleep I get each night is around 5 hours, which is less than what is recommended. I could feel my own physical and mental health deteriorate as I find myself catching colds and forgetting things easier than when I was younger. That is because sleep deprivation weakens the immune system and decreases mental abilities. Often, I find myself staying awake all night trying to complete assignments and experience the impact of insufficient sleep on my learning the next day. I was less efficient at processing and encoding the information I learn in class. In my experience, even though my biological clock is telling me that it’s time to sleep and despite the fact that I want to get enough sleep, it does not necessarily happen due to other factors such as anxiety and worry.
Although college is a difficult time to squeeze in time for sleep, there is no doubt that sleep is essential for our physical and mental health. But for those who want to change their sleep attitudes, there are a few tips for developing better sleeping habits. The tips include establishing a set sleeping schedule, explicitly associating your bed with sleep, and lastly, trying not to make up for the lost sleep as that will make the next night’s sleep more difficult (Grison & Gazzaniga, 2019, p. 109). It is important to remember that sleep is a necessity and that it is important during every stage of life. Without a doubt, sleep is definitely not for the weak.