Before pulling an all-nighter, there are a few things you should know about sleep. Insufficient sleep or inconsistent sleep patterns can lead to decreased grades, attention and memory, so a late-night study session may have opposite the intended effect.
Benefits of a good night's sleep
- Higher GPA: studies show that students who didn't get sufficient sleep had lower grades
- Improved memory, learning and mental performance: a person who is well-rested is able to focus their attention and absorb material more efficiently, and new research shows that sleep and dreaming play an important role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information. Therefore, sleep provides benefit both before and after engaging in a learning activity. In addition, being over-tired impairs our ability to recall previously learned information.
- Maintain a healthy weight: insufficient sleep is linked to weight gain, increased appetite and food cravings. People who regularly sleep less than 6 hours a night are significantly more likely to have an above average BMI.
- Improve your mental and emotional health: just one or two nights of poor sleep can lead to irritability, fatigue, and decreased motivation, optimism and sociability. Chronic sleep problems are correlated with stress, depression and anxiety.
- Prevent disease and increase your life span: inadequate sleep on a regular basis is associated with long term health consequences including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. Data from 3 large epidemiological studies showed that sleeping five hours or less per night increased mortality risk from all causes by roughly 15%.
- Avoid accidents: sleep affects judgment and reflexes, so it should not be surprising that "drowsy driving" accounts for an estimated 20% of all motor vehicle accidents. If you need medical care, make sure your doctor is well-rested, because a lack of sleep is responsible for an estimated third of all medical errors. Investigation has also determined that sleep deprivation played a critical role in a number of disasters, including the nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, and the grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker.
Develop healthy sleep habits!
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep a night for adults, and college students may need more. Here are some tips to improve your sleep
- Unwind before bedtime. Consider stretching, visualization, meditation or breathing exercises. If your mind is racing, jotting your thoughts or "to do list" down before going to bed can help.
- Develop a sleep routine: go to bed and get up at approximately the same time each day, even on weekends. Do the same thing before bed each night, e.g. reading for 15 minutes.
- Exercise on a regular basis but avoid strenuous activity within 4 hours of bedtime.
- Avoid substances with caffeine and alcohol within a few hours of bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant with a half life of about 5 hours, meaning it can take 10 or more hours to be fully metabolized. Alcohol acts as a temporary sedative, but once the alcohol is processed it stimulates the brain causing sleep problems later in the night.
- Limit late night electronics: TV and video games can be over-stimulating, making it difficult to fall asleep. In addition, the glow from electronic devices can inhibit natural sleep cycles.
- Keep it quiet and dark: if your room is loud, consider using earplugs. You also can use a sleep mask to cover your eyes if your roommate leaves the light on. If noise is an on-going problem, it may warrant a conversation with your residential life staff.
- Preserve the sanctity of your bed: try to study, socialize etc. in other locations so that your bed is associated with sleep and relaxation. If you have insomnia, try getting up and doing something else, then return to bed when you feel tired.
- Exercise and exposure to natural light, such as a walk outside in the morning, will help you wake up and feel alert.
Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School
Emory Cares 4U