Dawn Muenchrath/the Gauntlet

Plenty of time for sleep before the grave

Publication YearIssue Date 

Feeling invincible defines part of being young. Despite our limited experiences, money or resources, we often act as though we can do anything and everything. University is a time to experiment, rebel, mature and hell, pursue higher knowledge.

Taking care of our bodies is something to worry about in old age. Admittedly, we reinforce this attitude by surviving on leftover pizza or binge drinking — the fact that we do not die, and actually seem bright-eyed and quick-witted after a drunken stupor or in spite of chronic malnutrition contradicts common sense advice to eat healthily, drink in moderation and particularly get plenty of sleep. The amount of sleep we get is something we tend to treat as a negotiable quantity. Sleep is often bumped to the bottom of a typical university student’s list of priorities. There are no gold stars for getting your recommended eight hours.

Intuitively, we know our bodies need sleep. We’ve heard about studies time and time again which confirm that sleep-deprived individuals perform more poorly on all tasks compared to their well-rested counterparts. Current research suggests an unbalanced sleep schedule creates metabolic and immune disruptions, potentially leading to an early grave if the problem becomes chronic.

This seems logical. After all, everyone needs to sleep. So we nod our heads absentmindedly and acknowledge the discoveries of science. But we also believe that we know the limits of our bodies, and that a missed night of sleep can be compensated for later because we believe we know our bodies’ limits.

A lack of sleep can lead to poor problem-solving and decision making skills. I’m sure we can all recall a lapse in judgment that we made when tired, such as a simple mistake on an exam or an inappropriate comment we failed to filter. Though frustrating, we can take comfort in the fact that we were impaired when we made these blunders. At the very least, we can identify our own state of mind —right?

According to a 2003 study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, people who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation are no longer capable of appraising their own sleepiness. In other words, though their body’s need for sleep remains unchanged, their perception of their own fatigue levels has. In this study, people subjected to the experimental conditions (sleeping only four or six hours a night versus eight) had the erroneous perception they had adapted to less sleep. We might not even know when we are tired anymore, which is worrisome because people cannot fix a problem of which they are unaware.

Time is a valuable commodity and unfortunately it seems sleep is becoming a forgotten investment. We start neglecting it in high school, which only escalates as we enter university, and then the real world of work, deadlines and responsibilities demands our attention. The days when we fought our parents to skip naptime. have evolved into trying to pull consecutive all-nighters. For better or worse, the ever-increasing speed of our lives isn’t going to change any time soon. Perhaps we can shut off our phones and computer screens a little earlier at night. Perhaps we can admit occasionally that we can’t do it all. Or at least, decide that it can wait until tomorrow.

So as midterms approach, and the coffee consumption at the university rises exponentially, try to remember that you can’t cheat your body. Your body needs sleep. If we all remembered that, there might be a few less grumpy, bumbling zombies around campus this year.