Is sleep really just for the weak?

By in Sports & Health

Finals are quickly approaching, and we’re all slowly beginning to regret not doing our readings or studying in advance. The limited time we have left to prepare for the impending doom of finals will soon become a hectic mess of sleepless nights, caffeine and confusion.

We’ve all pulled all-nighters in hopes of cramming a term’s worth of information into one night. Unfortunately, many studies show that sleep deprivation actually leads to decreased performance in cognitive tasks that require critical thinking. Research shows that lack of sleep not only affects a student’s ability to concentrate but also affects their physical, emotional and mental health.

It is common to notice a decrease in satisfaction with life in general when we deprive ourselves of sleep. Lack of sleep has been proven to lead to increased tension, irritability, confusion and feelings of depression and anxiety.

Alongside a deflated mood, students who lack sleep also perform worse academically. In a study published by the Journal of American College Health in 1997, researchers found that, while the cognitive performance of sleep‑deprived research participants was unmistakably worse than those who slept regularly, surprisingly, participants rated their concentration and performance significantly higher than non-sleep-deprived participants.

So, it seems that, even though we do worse on our exams when we lack sleep, we think that we are concentrating and performing reasonably. Obviously, this perception is false, but our brains graciously make us believe that we are doing just fine.

More recent studies show that, when we have a day filled with intense learning followed by REM sleep, we do significantly better in examinations. This is due to the fact that the REM stage of sleep is essential for integrating new information into our brains. With this research in mind, studying followed by adequate sleep will lead to better results than cramming and pulling an all-nighter.

In addition to lack of sleep, we also often find ourselves drinking greater amounts of caffeine during final-exam season. Whether it be espresso shots or energy drinks, caffeine is a quick and easy tool to keep our minds awake and alert when we can’t find time to sleep while studying. However, while caffeine does boost alertness, cognitive performance and short-term memory for a period of time, this legal drug is highly addictive.

If you experience painful headaches when you go a day without coffee, you may have a caffeine addiction. Caffeine addiction is not to be taken lightly, as caffeine withdrawal is now a recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and has dreadful symptoms that extend past headaches to heart problems, nausea, anxiety and more.

In general, you should be aware of your caffeine consumption, as it effects your day-to-day sleep. Overall, a cup of coffee or two a day is a common amount for consumption and poses little health risk.

In order to ensure your best possible performance on your upcoming finals, consider organizing your study schedule to incorporate a healthy amount sleep. If you can’t do that, at least try to find time for naps.

All in all, although we understand that sleep deprivation has negative implications for our academic performance, let’s be honest: we are still going to pull all-nighters. To ensure you’re in your healthiest sleep-deprived form, remember to keep hydrated, stay nourished and take breaks — power naps are your friend.

Aqsa Hussain

Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor