Why Sleep Should Be at the Top of Your Priority List

Why Sleep Should Be at the Top of Your Priority List
  • Opening Intro -

    College is a whole new world with bigger academic demands, a growing social life, and more independence than many students have ever known.

    All of those changes make it easy to forget about taking care of yourself.

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But if you’re really going to meet all the requirements and demands on your time, you need sleep. Skipping a few hours in favor of time with friends could put more than your good looks in jeopardy. In this article, we’ll discuss how lack of sleep affects you and why it should be at the top of your priority list while you’re in college.

Get a brain boost and learn more

There’s a lot of information to absorb while you’re at college, and sleep is essential to that process. Learning can be broken down into three basic parts—acquisition, consolidation, and recall.

Acquiring information and recalling information are conscious decisions that can only take place while you’re awake. However, the second step, consolidation, takes place while you sleep, but not just any sleep.

In the course of a regular night’s sleep, you’ll actually go through five or six 60 to 90-minute sleep cycles for a total of seven to nine hours of sleep. In each of those cycles, you experience each of the five sleep stages, including rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Starting in stage III, you enter the slow-wave sleep stages. In these deep, restorative stages, your brain takes all the information you’ve acquired during the day and makes sense of it within your existing experiences.

Early studies into this phenomenon involved rats running a maze. What they discovered was that the rats’ brains kept running the maze while they were asleep. That process helped them run the maze faster the next day.

While we are definitely not rats, our brains work in a similar way. They keep processing the information to streamline and understand it. It’s key for remembering both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of new skills and theories.

Make critical connections to old memories

Sleep also plays a role in connecting new memories with your old ones. While that may not seem important, think about how we as humans collect knowledge and experience over a lifetime. When you acquire and connect new memories to old ones, you give your learning context and make personal applications.

The process of connecting these memories doesn’t replace your old experiences but strengthens both the old and new. Sleep opens the door for efficiency and the opportunity for knowledge to grow and build. If you skip sleep, that process slows, which can affect your academic success.

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Boost creative thinking

To survive in a fast-paced world, you need creative thinking. Sleep plays a role there too. We already know that it’s part of the learning process and consolidating memories. But while you sleep, your brain is also looking for insight. In a 2004 study, participants were more likely to come up with creative solutions to a problem after they’d slept. Their brains had time to run through scenarios and connect with old memories until it could create new solutions of its own.

That niggling feeling that you’ve missed something important will often be answered after you’ve spent some time between the sheets.

Improve your group work

Group work is an essential part of college studies and employment later on. Rarely will you work in a vacuum where you are the sole beginning and end of your job. Sleep can help you work with others by promoting emotional balance.

Anytime you get less than seven hours of sleep, the emotion and logic centers of the brain work differently. The emotional center, a small, almond-shaped part of the brain called the amygdala, becomes oversensitive and reactive to negative thoughts, feelings, and situations. Normally, the logical part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, keeps emotional responses in check. However, it’s activity decreases with sleep deprivation, leaving you more likely to act on negative emotions.

These changes make it harder to get along with others and increase your stress and anxiety.

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The takeaway

Sleep is a vital part of your health that greatly influences your educational experience. To learn and perform at your best, sleep needs to be at the top of your list. That might mean coming home early from parties or shutting down the studying early to make sure you get the rest you need. However, adequate sleep can boost your grades and improve your people skills. Sleep is more than a luxury, it’s a need that can have a big impact on your success.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Categories: Student Health

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