It’s Time To Stop Sleeping On Sleep

By Kavya Aggarwal  •  LinkedIn

Exam season is upon us, and with it comes the familiar baggage of project deadlines, rushed assignments, and all-nighters. With a seemingly endless number of lecture videos to catch up on, it’s no wonder that most of us do not have a cordial relationship with sleep on any given day. As the stress and pressure increases during grind season, the number of sleep-deprived students hits an all-time high.  

In our quest to ace university life, we bravely forgo sleep and treat it more as an oft-ignored luxury than a life-sustaining necessity – oblivious to the long-term side effects of sleep deprivation. Because of academic and co-curricular commitments with pressing deadlines, it feels ‘okay’ to delay bedtime or sacrifice sleep entirely.

Are we burning the midnight oil on the way to a burnout? PHOTO: Pexels 

Sacrificing sleep to complete work might seem to work on a short-term basis when we do get things done. However, the constant pressure of staying up night after night is slowly – and silently – taking a toll on our bodies.  

Here’s a deeper dive into what we get wrong about sleep and what we need to change about our own sleeping habits. 

Myth 1: Pulling an all-nighter before exam day helps with my prep 

Late-night cramming of exam content at the last minute may be doing you more harm than good. There is plenty of research into the impact of poor sleep on our information retaining capacity, attentiveness, and cognitive performance.  

In his book ‘Why We Sleep’, scientist Matthew Walker details a study where university students were divided into a sleep group and a sleep deprivation group. The sleep group was allowed a full night’s sleep, while the other group stayed up all night. The next day, they learnt series of facts, while their brain activity was recorded. Simple enough.  

Two days of regular sleep later, all of them were tested on the facts learnt. The verdict?  A 40% learning deficit was observed in the sleep deprivation group. Compared to others, their MRI scans showed a significant difference in the activation of the hippocampus – the brain’s short-term memory. Subsequent research has further reinforced the importance of sleep to memory.  

The takeaway? Being well-prepared for an exam may be important but getting enough sleep the night before is perhaps even more so. It is those crucial hours of restfulness that allow the brain to consolidate and retain the information and act upon it more effectively.  

Myth 2: I can catch up on sleep over the weekend! 

The concepts of credit and debit may make sense in the world of banking, but not when it comes to your sleep schedule. Most of us believe that a good 12-hour sleep compensates for a string of wakeful nights. But sleep lost once is sleep lost forever.  

Yes, that weekend sleep may temporarily energise your tired self, but it does not make up for the long-term damage inflicted upon an overworked body that is firing on all cylinders.  

“A weekend of catch-up sleep is often not sufficient for full recuperation and each subsequent week of sleep deprivation has compounded negative effects,” explained Dr. Ruth Leong, a post-doctoral fellow with the Sleep and Cognition Lab at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.  

Impaired immune function, slowed cognitive performance, increased stress, greater cravings, and daytime lethargy – all this and more have been linked to sleep deprivation in numerous well-validated scientific journals and other literature.  

The way forward? As recommended by the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult requires seven to nine hours of sleep daily. Committing to a fixed bedtime is a great first step towards better sleep hygiene. 

Science Supports Sleep (Src. National Sleep Foundation)

Myth 3: Sleep is for the Weak 

Well, haven’t you heard? Hustlers do not sleep. If you want it bad, you fight for it… Sacrificing sleep seems to be a badge of honour in modern-day hustle culture.  

And that is unfortunate as it only adds to the misinformation concerning sleep that is out there. As we strive to balance academics, co-curricular and social activities, let us not neglect our sleep. 

We roughly spend a third of our lives either sleeping or trying to fall asleep. Yet, we are unaware of its necessity and numerous benefits. We need to take a hard look at our sleep routine and put the many sleep-related myths to bed (no pun intended!). 

As said by Homer (the Greek poet, not our favourite Simpson), “There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep”.  

And that time is now, so turn your laptop off and get a good night’s rest today. All the best for your finals!