Why I Prioritize Sleep As A Student

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You know that triangle that has the three main categories of life in college? The one that says, of sleep, a social life, and good grades, you can pick two?

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The one that actually ends up being this-

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This kind of stress induced burn out is so incredibly common. I’m only a sophomore and I feel these diagrams on a spiritual level, so it happens fast.

Despite all of this, I’ve always been pretty strict about prioritizing sleep. My rule is to always be in bed by midnight, though I often strive for before 11:00 since I’m usually up by 8. If I still have homework left that I didn’t get done, it’s not going to get done. I won’t sacrifice my physical and mental health to complete an assignment at a sub-par quality that probably won’t count for much of my grade anyway.

This means absolutely no all-nighters. No exceptions.

I’m sorry, but I never understand the people who brag about staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning studying for their final. Like what are you doing??? I guarantee you will be sleep-deprived and your brain won’t function at its best during your exam. You can take all of the adderall and drink all of the energy drinks and coffee that you want (though please don’t), but none of that is going to reverse the effects of a lack of sleep. Many students think sacrificing sleep for study time is worth it, but that extra hour or two can actually cause you to get a lower grade while feeling even more stressed. It’s more likely that you’ll make mistakes, be less productive, and take longer to answer questions. When you sleep, your brain is working to prepare itself for tomorrow. It builds “new pathways to help you learn and remember information” (source). That’s what we all want for exams isn’t it?

It’s been scientifically proven that sleep actually improves your learning and memory capabilities whereas the opposite is shown to lead to depression, decreased ability to cope with change, and inattentiveness (source). Do you ever wonder why the typical college student is anxious, on edge, feeling down, or has trouble with decisions and commitments? Sleep deficiency doesn’t help any of these things.

“Although chronic sleep deprivation affects different individuals in a variety of ways (and the effects are not entirely known), it is clear that a good night’s rest has a strong impact on learning and memory” (source)

In addition to these mental and emotional effects, lowered physical health is also a major factor of sleep deprivation. Not only does less sleep lead to a lowered immune system (causing you to get sick more often), but

“ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke” (source).

It also increases your risk for obesity. In fact, “one study of teenagers showed that with each hour of sleep lost, the odds of becoming obese went up” (source). This is because losing sleep messes up your hormonal balance, causing you to feel hungrier than usual. In addition to the risk for obesity (which in itself is a big player in diabetes risk), these hormonal imbalances affect your insulin levels, which can also increase your chance of diabetes, as mentioned above.

You may think you’re a super human and can function without much sleep, but I’m here to tell you you can’t. Now I definitely don’t get a full 8 hours of sleep every night, but I know my limits. Yes, college is fun and there are a ton of things to spend all hours of the day doing., but you need to prioritize. Yes, going to a midnight movie premier is okay. Yes, staying up having a life chat with your roommate until 2 am is fine. Yes, working late nights at a weekend retreat is understandable. Once and a while.

This can’t be an everyday occurrence. The saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is funny and many people relate to it, but it’s so detrimental to your health right now in the present.

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Did you know microsleep is a thing? I’m sure you’ve experienced it. You can’t control it and you usually aren’t aware of it until after the fact (source).

Have you ever been sitting in lecture and “zoned out” only to zone back in and feel like you’ve missed everything?

Have you ever been driving, gotten to your destination, and remember nothing about the ride there?

This is microsleep and it’s dangerous. Your personal well-being is obviously at risk, but it can also lead to bigger problems. “For example, sleep deficiency has played a role in human errors linked to tragic accidents, such as nuclear reactor meltdowns, grounding of large ships, and aviation accidents” (source). Now I know you’re thinking- “I’m just in college. I’m not in charge of anything important so this isn’t that big of a deal. I’ll only be here for four years.”

Well, your health and success is a pretty big deal to me and it’s incredibly difficult to break bad habits. I don’t want you to be exhausted 24/7. I don’t want your college experience to come back to haunt you. Don’t fail out of school because you’ve been partying every night and don’t bomb your final because you tried to overcompensate and study more than you were physically able to.

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Remember, there are three different types of sleep deprivation- absolute, partial, and selective (source). Just because you slept from 2 am to 7am doesn’t mean you aren’t sleep deprived.

This isn’t supposed to be some long, biased mom-lecture preaching that if you don’t sleep 8 hours a night you’re going to live a sad life and die early. No. That’s not what I’m saying. I want you to understand that making sleep a priority in your life will only be a benefit to you. It will force you to get better at time management. It will force you to understand your physical, mental, and emotional health. It will force you to be the best student you can be because, after all, that’s why you’re in college.

Obviously I’m not even close to being a medical professional- I just did some reading from NIH and Harvard to back up what I believe and what I found works for me. I highly recommend that you read some articles on the science of sleep. Not only is it interesting, it makes you appreciate what your body can do for you and why you need to take care of it. Your body will help you, you just have to let it!

 

Click here to see an awesome infographic! I was going to add segments from it to this post, but I loved them all so I’m sharing it in its entirety 🙂

Interested in getting better sleep? Read this.

To make sure you’re waking up refreshed, try this or this sleep calculator. They count back (or forward) in sleep cycles to help prevent waking up in the middle of a cycle!

 

~How do you make sure you’re getting enough sleep?

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  • Amanda

    Girl, amen! I was the same way when I as in undergraduate and even now working through my master’s degree – no all-nighters for me. If the work isn’t done by bedtime, oh well. I totally get you and cheer you on as you are probably the odd one out in many college circles. Good for you for standing your ground and getting your sleep!

    • Amanda Reigel

      That’s awesome that you didn’t let the stress of grad school impact your sleep schedule! Everyone loves to sleep but very few people make time for it, which just blows my mind. Thanks for reading! <3