So as the semester comes to a close, finals looms over the heads of us undergrad college students. What does this mean? Late nights studying and writing papers, with few hours of sleep. But is this really the best thing for us?
Sleep is important for many reasons. Deep sleep helps the connections between cells, and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is when we consolidate memories. The effects of not enough sleep are obvious: you’re tired, you feel like your brain is cloudy or you are thinking slow, and may even feel grumpy that you don’t have time for a nap. But chronic sleep deprivation can have scary effects.
Sleep deprivation has been shown to: increase the risk of having a stroke or developing diabetes due to increased insulin resistance, lead to obesity (think: late night munchies) due to an increase in the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin, damage bones because of osteoporosis (in a study, rats that were sleep-deprived showed changes in bone mineral density and bone marrow), increase cancer risk, increase resting blood pressure, hurt your heart (with stress and strain, the body produces more chemicals and hormones that lead to heart disease), and finally sleep deprivation has been linked to earlier age of death.
A recent article posted on Cnn.com also investigated the long-term effects of sleep deprivation, particularly in shift workers who may not get the full eight hours of sleep needed in a night. The article states that it may be a myth that you can pay back sleep debt, because brain damage may have already occurred. In a study at University of Pennsylvania, mice were allowed to sleep and then awakened at either short or long intervals. The mice’s brains were then examined. The scientists found damage at the locus coeruleus, a bundle of nerve cells associated with cognitive function and alertness. In fact, the mice lost 25% of these neurons. The scientists believed that when the mice lost a little sleep, the nerve cells reacted by making more protein to protect them. But with chronic reduction in sleep, the reaction shuts down, and the cells begin to die off.
So, when students stay up all night studying, his or her performance may be worse on a final exam, because the information he or she is trying to learn does not have the chance to consolidate. But the scarier thing is what impact these sleep-deprived nights may have on the student’s future.