By Jemma Powell | Science Editor
Nights out followed by morning lectures, starting an essay at 8pm to finish it at 8am. Student life isn’t the best for good sleep, but the biological effects of sleep deprivation are staggering
What is ‘good sleep’ and why is it so important?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, an adult human needs between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. During this time we cycle between light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM). Fluctuating through these throughout the night triggers large and powerful brainwaves, which act as a neural deep clean. Without this nightly cleanse, your brain struggles to function.
“Mother nature has never had to face the challenge of sleep deprivation… your body can’t adapt to it healthily”
What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?
There are many effects caused by lack of sleep. Complete deprivation (1 night without sleep) inhibits a section of your hippocampus associated with memory, resulting in a 40% deficit in the ability to form memories. The brain can’t even absorb let alone process memories without a full 8 hours!
Sleep is also vital for your immune system. A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that a single night of reduced sleep results in a 70% drop in natural killer cell activity. These cells are essential in the immune response system, and are responsible for the link between little sleep and multiple illnesses.
“The link between a lack of sleep and cancer is now so strong that the World Health Organization has classified any form of night-time shift work as a probable carcinogen”
Most staggeringly is the link between cardiovascular diseases and sleep. A 2014 American Study found that a one-hour change in sleep had significant impact on heart attack rates. Looking at the records of cardiac arrest reported the day after daylight savings, they found a 24% increase in heart attacks after the spring savings (loose an hour of sleep). They also found the day after winter savings- where you gain an hour of sleep- there was a 21% reduction in heart attacks.
The benefits of sleep
Thankfully, the flip side is also true, and just as important. Having good quality, uninterrupted sleep for just 8 hours a night is like drinking a healing potion in a video game. Your immune system is stronger, your brain more alert your heart is healthier. Let’s face it, it’s nice to not be tired.
How can you improve the quality of your sleep?
The good news is sleep can be improved, as studied by Harvard University. They recommend lessening intake of stimulating chemicals such as caffeine, and alcohol, especially before you go to bed. Avoiding naps is another trick, as “sleep isn’t a debt you can repay”.
Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time each day is also key. The closer this aligns with your natural circadian rhythms the better i.e. wake up in the morning and sleeping at night.
Harvard also discovered however that trying to fall asleep when you’re not tired can actually be detrimental. The more you train your brain that the bed is a place of sleep, the better you will be at drifting off.
With studies continuing to be published detailing the importance of sleep, hopefully one day, 9am lectures won’t be mandatory.Jemma Powell Science and Technology