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Editor’s note: Her Campus at VCU does not recommend depriving yourself of food or sleep and encourages all collegiettes to prioritize their own health and well-being.

As we progress farther into the semester, we may ask ourselves a question integral to our success, “Do I sleep or do I eat?” This question has probably come to every student’s mind when he or she finds it difficult to manage time in a way that would allow studying, eating and sleeping. At some point in the academic career of the procrastinator, he or she must decide if sleeping or eating is more important; neglecting the work is not an option. Before deciding, it is crucial to know the effects of each.

Without Food:

The brain and its associate neurons depend almost independently on sugars to maintain proper function; other sources of energy such as fats can not cross the blood-brain barrier and, therefore, can not deliver energy to these cells. The body begins to burn fat after about 24 hours without sugar intake. Past this 24-hour period, the body is exhausted of favorable energy sources and begins to break down muscle and connective tissue; then the brain begins to breakdown neurons to obtain energy. Although this process of brain shrinkage is reversible upon sugar intake, it presents a threat to one’s ability obtain and retain information.

Without Sleep:

In a recent study, rats were deprived of sleep for four days. After the deprivation period, sleep-deprived rats exhibited significant weight loss, increased breakdown of energy containing molecules and less efficient rates of catabolism and anabolism when compared to rates that were not sleep deprived. During the deprivation period, deprived rats experience lower levels of the hormone insulin, which is responsible for maintaining healthy levels of blood glucose. Human studies produce results in concordance with this rat study; after a lack of sleep, subjects retained higher levels of urea in the bloodstream. The lead researchers to conclude that sleep deprivation leads to increased breakdown of protein as opposed to sugar, the preferred energy storer, and increase gluconeogenesis, which is the build up of energy from non-sugars in times of great stress.

When pulling your next all-nighter or skipping a meal to study for an exam, it is imperative to consider the effects these stresses have on your body. Pick your poison: sleep deprivation, starvation, a failing grade or some combination of the three. If these options sound less enticing, appropriate time management can help you better fulfill your body’s physical needs.

Sources: 1, 2

Image Source: 1, 2, 3

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