Did you know? Not studying at all before a test and getting 8 hours of sleep results in better grades than pulling an all-nighter studying for 8 hours.
This is because sleep is one of the most important bodily functions, only behind eating and drinking. The amount of sleep someone gets can dictate all aspects of people's lives, including academic performance. Many students believe that sleep is a waste of time; however, sleep is vital to staying happy and healthy, and sleep deprivation (not getting enough sleep) can make someone miserable.
Cherie Henningsen, the psychology teacher at North Scott High School, explains that a lack of sleep impairs people’s ability to concentrate and form memories, and it makes people more irritable. Toxins build up in the brain during the day, and the body needs to flush out these toxins to stay healthy. Henningsen emphasizes that toxins flushing out of the brain “only happens during sleep.” Along with these toxins staying in the brain, sleep deprivation can cause depression, and driving with less than five hours of sleep is worse than driving drunk.
Many people suffer from insomnia, making it difficult to avoid sleep deprivation. There are many ways to alleviate insomnia, with some being easier than others. Henningsen says that avoiding technology use for two or more hours before bed is one of the best ways to get more sleep; however, that’s unrealistic for many students due to schoolwork being on Chromebooks. Henningsen explains that some more realistic alternatives are to stay consciously aware of emotions throughout the day and create an environment purely for sleep. Staying aware of emotions prevents those emotions from piling up when trying to sleep, and if you use your bed solely for sleeping, “you can condition your brain to only associate sleep with your bed,” allowing you to quickly become tired when going to bed.
Understanding your individual circadian rhythm (the internal clock that determines how much sleep you need) is very important for getting enough sleep. Everyone's circadian rhythm is different, and contrary to popular belief, circadian rhythm is based on the times people need to sleep during, not the cumulative amount of sleep they need. For example, a person’s circadian rhythm may be from 10:30 to 8:30 rather than being 10 hours. To learn and listen to your circadian rhythm, all you need to do is go to bed when you feel tired, and eventually, you should fall asleep and wake up according to your circadian rhythm.
Despite its importance to getting proper sleep, Henningsen says that "a lot of people are penalized for listening to their circadian rhythm” due to needing to wake up earlier than their circadian rhythm ends for work. An easier way to feel happier in the morning is waking up at the end of a sleep cycle. People sleep in 1.5 hour intervals, and waking up at the end of an interval provides greater happiness than waking up in the middle of one. If you've ever gotten a good rest but felt awful in the morning, you probably woke up in the middle of an interval; if you've ever gotten little sleep but felt great, you probably woke up at the end of one. Thus, setting your alarm so you wake up at the end of a 1.5 hour interval could be an easy way to feel better in the morning.
Everyone’s sleep schedule is different, so only you can know what’s best for you in terms of sleep. “It’s all about listening to your body and knowing when to sleep,” Henningsen said.