Lost Sleep is Hard to Make Up
Even though these effects are all short term, that doesn’t make them easy to reverse. Sleeping extra on the weekends seems like a good idea, but in reality, it doesn’t actually prevent or reverse any effects caused by not sleeping much during the week. The sleep debt that we rack up isn’t something we can pay back hour for hour, even if you aren’t regularly pulling all-nighters, and the effects linger for as long as the poor sleep habits do.
Studies by the division of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed that one long night of sleep after several days of sleep deprivation only reduced the effects of sleep deprivation for the six hours after waking up. After that, all of the normal short term effects resurfaced. Obviously, our days are longer than six hours, so while you may feel okay right when you wake up, you probably won’t later in the day.
“Research subjects who were deprived of sleep the first night after learning still showed no sign of improvement even after two subsequent nights of full sleep,” explains Dr. James B. Maas, the professor at Cornell University who coined the term “power nap” and author of Sleep for Success. “The simple truth is if you’re not sleeping after learning new information, you might as well spare yourself the trouble of learning in the first place.”
So, whether you’re just lacking sleep during finals week or not doesn’t really matter, and sacrificing a night’s worth of sleep can be pointless since studying is the reason most of us stay up late in the first place. “I’ve seen people fall asleep in the middle of exams before, definitely. They’re always the ones bragging about how they spent all night and morning cramming,” laughs one University of Rochester junior.
Long Term Effects
While any amount of sleep deprivation causes us to be exhausted, slow, and moody in the short term, chronic sleep deprivation can also have effects that last beyond college. Even occasional all-nighters add up over the years and can contribute to the following:
- Increased risk of common illnesses: Though each individual is different, many studies have linked lack of sleep to increased risks of many common diseases, including high blood pressure, heart attack, and diabetes. When we sleep our bodies produce critical hormones that regulate these processes, so if we don’t, then the balances are thrown off and we are more susceptible to these complications.
- Obesity: A problem at the center of attention for the past few years, obesity has been linked to lack of sleep, not only due to deregulation of appetite-suppressing hormones, but also because of what we’re using to stay awake. Look around any library or classroom and you’re likely to find a cup of Starbucks, a can of some type of energy drink, or a bag of sugar-laden snacks in at least one student’s possession.
- Aging: As if those reasons aren’t convincing enough, let’s consider the term “beauty sleep.” Well, turns out it’s real. When we sleep, our bodies produce growth hormones that repair cells and tissues as well as collagen, a buzzword for all those fancy (and expensive!) anti-aging creams on the market, the protein that keeps our skin hydrated, youthful, and healthy. Getting the proper amount of sleep will help you keep your glow and your money.
Going to bed earlier is a simple solution, but not an easy one to follow through on considering our busy schedules. Besides working on time management so you don’t have to resort to those all-nighters in the first place, Dr. Glezen advises that college students learn good “sleep hygiene” which includes:
- Regular aerobic exercise, though not late at night
- Avoidance of caffeine late in the day
- Avoidance of alcohol, which may help students to be able to fall asleep but may cause disrupted sleep later in the night
- A regular schedule for both going to bed and waking up in the morning, including weekends
Check out these other helpful tips to ensure you get enough sleep tonight.
Sharon Glezen, MD, Medical Chief of University Health Services at the University of Rochester
Sleep for Success: Everything You Must Know About Sleep but Are Too Tired to Ask, Dr. James B. Maas, Rebecca S. Robbins
Various undergraduate students
American College Health Association – National College Health Assessment, Spring 2010
British Medical Journal