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Wellness > Health

Getting Enough Sleep Is More Important Than You Think

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Penn chapter.

Sleep, as we all know, is essential for our survival. However, as we’re approaching finals, we tend to sacrifice sleep to get more work done (I’m guilty of this myself). Here’s why you need to plan out your time for sleeping:

Sleeping improves your memory.

Studies have shown that sleeping is extremely important for learning and forming long term memories. When we sleep, memories undergo system consolidation, which enhances the neural connections that form our memories, thus stabilizing them. In a study, people who did an intensive language course had an increase in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which showed that REM sleep is important for introducing new information to the brain. Also, REM sleep seems to have a crucial role in procedural memory, or the remembering “how” to do something.

Sleeping improves your metabolism.

Sleep has a crucial role in regulating our body weight and metabolism. A study showed that people who get less sleep had reduced levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that is involved in regulating appetite and it controls your feelings of hunger. When you have too little leptin in your body, it causes you to feel hungry even if you don’t actually need more energy. Ghrelin, on the other hand, is the opposite of leptin, as it tells your brain when you need to stop burning calories and store energy as fat. When there are higher levels of ghrelin in your body, more energy will be stored as fat. The changing levels of these hormones in your body can cause fluctuations in your metabolism. Indeed, it has been observed that the increase in obesity in the 20th century almost parallels the decrease in sleep duration.

Sleep deprivation and heart disease are interlinked.

Although the cause for the link between sleep and heart disease is not clear, researchers agree that they are definitely linked. People who don’t get enough sleep have higher levels of substances that can lead to inflammation, which is a key cause of heart disease. Also, people who have sleep apnea generally have poor heart health. Without sleep, some chemicals are released that stop our body from having extended periods of low heart rate and blood pressure.

Sleep actually used to be in two shifts until recently!

There has been a lot of evidence showing that historically, we used to sleep in two segments. For example, in his books, Charles Dickens referred to the ‘First Sleep’ and ‘Second Sleep.’ We would sleep in two shifts, with a waking period of around an hour or two between these shifts. First sleep (also known as dead sleep) would last for around four hours. Then, people would wake up at around midnight for a few hours and pray, chop wood, or have sex. Second sleep would start after this and end in the morning. People in Central America and Brazil continued this way of sleeping in the 20th century and it is still practiced in some areas of Nigeria. Researchers think that this practice ended because with the advent of industrialization and modern lighting, it seemed unnecessary to have disruptions to people’s rest. While instances of insomnia have been noted to rise as people moved away from segmented sleep, researchers agree that a consistent chunk of sleep is best for our health.

Sleep and depression are linked.

The connection between sleep and depression appears to be a catch-22, as depression can cause sleep problems and sleep issues can lead to depression. In fact, people with depression commonly have insomnia, especially children and adolescents. Also, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to negative thinking and emotional vulnerability. Sleep loss can also cause irritability, impatience, and loss of judgement.

The next time you think it’d be best to pull an all-nighter to study for that big exam or complete that major assignment on time, consider the negative impact a lack of sleep will have on your health and performance. Try spacing out your work and study time and your body will thank you.

Reeti Shah

U Penn '21

Reeti is a senior studying Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and minoring in Economics. She loves reading (pretty much anything except horror), painting, drawing, looking at pictures of cute animals and learning useless facts. Catch her binge-watching Brooklyn Nine Nine or Parks and Rec when procrastinating.