The importance of sleeping enough during finals

The terms “sleep” and “finals week” go together as well as a fish and peanut butter. It almost seems to be a right of passage for college students to pull all-nighters during the end of term, but the neuroscience of sleep proves that this widely accepted practice does not benefit students, nor merit bragging rights. Dr. Jonathan Winsor of the Department of Integrative Psychology and Neuroscience at Washington State University Spokane visited the Washington State University Vancouver campus on April 14 to lecture on the research performed by him and his associates at the Sleep and Performance Research Center. Over the course of six years, they utilized rats, mice and other rodents whose sleep processes are similar to humans to learn more about the function and form of slow wave activity in the brain during sleep.

The primary focus of the research utilized EEG (electroencephalogram) and EMG (electromyogram) tests to record the brain waves of rodents during awake and sleep stages. The research included sleep deprivation of the animals, recovery sleep methods, observation of certain cells linked to the onset of slow wave sleep in the cerebral cortex of the brain, and optogenic stimulation on the cerebral cortex to artificially activate slow wave sleep. This information may seem intimidating and foreign, but the overall message at its core is important for students to remember, not only during finals week, but year-round. The sleep process is a vast umbrella encompassing the recovery of several different metabolic activities and areas of the body.

According to Dr. Winsor’s presentation, humans spend one-third of their lives asleep; without that time spent resting, daytime function is severely compromised. Automobile accidents increase with sleep deprivation, immune function decreases, and drowsiness causes mini-episodes of slow wave sleep during waking hours, which decrease attentiveness. Throughout the day, human bodies undergo a process called glycolysis to convert the chemical glucose into another chemical called lactate. One function of sleeping each night is to decrease the metabolic demand on cells and to reduce the buildup of lactate in the body, which can be toxic in high concentrations.  Another benefit of a full eight hours is the full relaxation of muscles during the sleep cycle. When cells take a break from grueling metabolic activity during sleep, attentiveness increases, as does immune function.

Casey Halleck, English major and junior at WSU Vancouver, is familiar with lack of sleep. “Usually during the school year I sleep about five hours per night because of my obligations, but I sleep more in summer.” Halleck also has pulled all-nighters during finals week before. “I’ve gone almost 48 hours without sleeping, and when I finally got to sleep, I slept for five hours and had to get up again. I was really grumpy and was told I wasn’t pleasant to be around.”

For students who have a hard time falling asleep due to stress, worry, insomnia or any other cause, there are ways to feel more rested. According to the National Sleep Foundation, short naps ranging from 20-30 minutes “provides significant benefit for improved alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep.” Any longer than this can produce an effect called “sleep inertia”, which causes the body to feel groggy due to being pulled out of a stage of deep sleep. The NSF also recommends a proper sleeping space, which means reducing noise, light, and room temperature, so the body can enter a period of proper rest. The old wives’ tale of drinking a glass of warm milk before bed is a popular way to fall asleep fast, as well as taking a warm, but not hot, bath. Serious sleepers can also turn off electronics and bright lights at least an hour before bed, write down any worries on their mind, and exercise regularly. Exposure to bright, natural light in the morning also helps to activate the natural circadian rhythm. Lastly, the snooze button can seem so tempting in the early morning hours, but students who wake up at the time they actually need to rise will feel more rested than those who hit snooze several times and experience interruptions in sleep rhythm. A better night’s sleep is one of the best tools students can have to ace finals and be healthier overall.

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