It’s 11 p.m. on a Wednesday. State Street has fallen dark and eerie, with only the distant glisten from the Capitol illuminating Madison’s vacant streets. For many, these closing hours of the day signify rest, relaxation, sleep. For the student, however, his night may have only just begun.
A bundled and brazen stroll downtown, a quick caffeine pitstop, an ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ mentality coursing through his veins, and off to the 24-hour College Library he goes.
One could say that pulling at least one “all-nighter” is somewhat of an unspoken graduation requirement. At least once in a student’s college career, they might find there are simply not enough hours in the day. We must show up to work, we must complete the assignment, we must study for midterms — among all the requirements, sleep is seemingly the easiest to forfeit. We value our waking hours and put sleep on the backburner. Ironically, it is sleep that students desperately need to succeed.
To our dismay, there is no alternative to sleep — unfortunately, no number of cups of coffee will be able to compensate for a sleepless night. In a Scientific American article titled “Sleep Deprivation Shuts Down Production of Essential Brain Proteins,” author Emily Willingham used the scientific findings of Sara B. Noya at the University of Zurich, Franziska Brüning at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and Chiara Cirelli at the University of Wisconsin to analyze and discuss the biological reasons behind the necessity of sleep.
Imagine this. It’s 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night. The same overworked, overtired student decides to skip the library and turn in for the night. As he starts to grow tired, he allows himself to fall asleep. This student has just given in to “sleep pressure” and listened to his internal clock rather than drowning it in a piping hot latte. This clock, located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus, serves as the control center for the sleep-wake cycle and is responsible for regulating protein-making transcripts, Noya found.
Noya said there are two peak times when neurons signal for these protein-making transcripts — once in deep sleep and once right before waking. Through a deliberate series of tests focused “on the synapses of the mouse forebrain,” Noya was able to show these two peaks are crucial for protein building and “rapid refreshing of synapses during sleep.” Sleep-deprived mice saw no such peaks, nor did the cells build the transcribed proteins.
“Sleep is essential for the brain: Learning and memory benefit from sleep, whereas sleep loss causes cognitive impairment that can only be reversed by sleep,” Cirelli said.
In other words, sleep is not for the weak, but for the wise.
So why are students prioritizing all else over sleep? The Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington is also the creator of the online platform Thrive Global and, following an incident where she collapsed due to sleep deprivation and exhaustion, she made it her mission to spread the importance of mental rejuvenation through sleep.
On campus, normalization of stress, sleep-deprivation, out-of-control schedules destroys our healthMy sophomore year of college, I embarked on my first independent research project as an undergrad — a 30-page historical Read…
In a Thrive Global article titled “How the ‘I Don’t Sleep Much’ Culture is Impacting Your Health,” author Gabriel Smith addressed the cultural defect that assumes busyness as the cause and tiredness as the effect. Smith boiled this mentality into a simple phrase.
“If you’re not tired, you’re not busy enough,” Smith said.
Smith discussed the prominence of sleep deprivation on college campuses, where students boast their three-hour sleeps and gloat their exhaustion with pride. Sleep is seen as a note of inefficiency and weakness among student bodies as college students race to be the most versatile and accomplished individual.
This omnipresent competition is a product of a competitive society. College students are setting unrealistic short-term and long-term goals that inevitably lead to some degree of failure. Accompanied by this feeling of failure are not only the mental defects caused by too little sleep, but also additional mental health concerns. On Oct. 9, 2019, ABC News covered Stanford University’s decision to update its mental health services to better aid their student population. This policy change reflects one of the nation’s most poignant issues — suicide on college campuses.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college-aged students. Though college students face the pressures and stress of fully developed adults, “rational thinking and the ability to regulate emotions and impulses are still developing” until age 25. Living independently for first time, facing new challenges, immersing in a completely new environment with completely new people — many, if not most, college students are not equipped for this considerable change.
Though mental health issues are being seen more than ever, with this prominence comes an increase in awareness and available mental health services. University Health Services at UW offers a slew of in-person and online mental health resources.
Regardless of current mental state, when students are searching for measures of improvement, it is crucial to begin by tweaking the little things — such as sleep. As proven, sufficient sleep provides enormous mental and physical health benefits.
WebMD’s article, “Surprising Reasons to Get More Sleep,” lists sharper brain, mood boost, healthier heart and weight control as some of the more prominent results of prioritizing sleep. As the minds of college-aged students are still changing and developing, maintaining a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle is of the utmost importance.
So, when 11 p.m. rolls around this Wednesday night, be sure to take an extra moment to think about what will truly benefit you, your health and your success.
Talia Gottlieb ([email protected]) is a junior studying marketing.