Why We Need Our Sleep

Like most people, one of my favorite parts of the day is when I get to finally climb into bed, and pull the covers up around my face. I recently got a new lavender-colored duvet cover to keep me warm in my drafty Mod bedroom, and now it is all I can think about when I’m out. At night, I like to put on my matching pajama set and fuzzy socks, then layer on the blankets so I feel like I’m inside a giant egg. In the morning, I pretend I’m hatching. I just really love sleeping.

Ironically, I had to cut my nap short to finish this column, and I still submitted it about a week late. Lately, I have been getting extra sleep. This could be because the seasonal change in daylight hours is making me more depressed and tired, or it might be due to the cold weather that makes my bed seem even more appealing. Either way, I have noticed that I need more sleep than most college students.

I try to get between eight and nine hours a night. I take a mood stabilizer that can increase drowsiness, which caused problems in high school when I would frequently doze off in class. Now I can usually just skip class if I think I’ll be too tired to stay awake. Intense dreams are another documented side effect of the medication. I keep a plain composition notebook next to my bed to document these vivid, hyper realistic dreams. They make my brain feel like an internal film festival.

I need my sleep. Sleep is so important to my general health, as well as my mental wellbeing. Going too long without sleeping, or having several nights of shortened sleep, could lead to a psychotic break.

Getting enough sleep is especially difficult on a campus like Boston College where we are all such overachievers. Most people have to balance their clubs, jobs, school work, and social lives. With a limited amount of time in each day, these other activities must compete with sleep. An extra few hours out of bed could mean the difference between passing and failing,

It pains me around midterms and finals to hear people proudly share how little sleep they have been getting. Exam weeks become almost like  competitions to see who can go the longest without sleep. Some of the most productive, overinvolved, and inspiring people I know sleep very little. But I know that, at least for me, sleep is important for letting me do all the things I do. I find that I am less creative, producing fewer and less valuable ideas when I am sleep deprived.

Unsurprisingly, research has shown that sleep has a big impact on learning. Sleep deprivation affects memory, cognition, motivation, and the ability to maintain attention. It is also associated with irritability and other mood issues.

That’s why I’m baffled when people stay up all night studying for exams. I would much rather spend fewer hours studying, and get a good night’s sleep. We would probably get the same grade anyway.

Since the popularization of wearable activity trackers, sleep habits of young adults have been the subject of much research. A recent study from Jawbone, which makes a tracker called UP, compiled the sleep habits of thousands of students on college campuses. They found that, students are actually getting more sleep than was previously thought, about seven hours during the week and slightly more on weekends. Women tended to sleep more, which makes sense as some research has shown that women tend to need about 20 more minutes on average. And it was found that students at higher-ranked schools went to bed later, but did not get less sleep on average.

So maybe sleep deprivation is not as big an issue as it seems. Your friends are probably not as sleep deprived as they have been saying, so it’s worthwhile to rest up when you can. It’s all a matter of balancing how much you want to accomplish with how good you want to feel.

Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor