College students often complain about how little sleep they get. To a degree it has become a point of pride to win the “I’ve gotten less sleep than you competition”. College students are representative of today’s society: fixated on electronic devices, overworked, and overcommitted. In fact, roughly 41 million people in the United States get six or fewer hours of sleep a night.
To make up for the fact that there is not enough time to do everything, many students give up on sleep. But is giving up sleep a solution? Does giving up sleep actually make us more inefficient and therefore trap us in this never-ending cycle?
To see if loss of sleep affects how well people focus, the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a sleep-restriction study. For two weeks people were assigned to sleep four hours, six hours, or eight hours. Every two hours, during the day, the subject took a psychomotor vigilance test (P.V.T.). In this test subjects were required to hit the spacebar as soon as they saw a flash of numbers to measure for sustained attention.
The study found that the subjects in the four and six hour groups P.V.T. results declined steadily each day. By day six, 25% of the six-hour group was falling asleep at the computer. By the end of the study, the six hour per night sleep group was as impaired as people who had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight, which is the mental equivalent of being legally drunk.
The question then becomes how anyone is going to find a solid eight hour block of time to sleep, especially with finals coming up. Thankfully, studies show that people should not sleep in solid eight hour chunks.
A recent article published in the New York Times claims that sleeping in eight hour blocks of time is not ideal. This is due to the fact that our bodies cannot handle such a long period of sleep time. Instead, the body naturally falls into a split sleep schedule which allows a person to have the optimal time for thinking and processing information.
A NASA funded-study found that letting subjects nap for a short period of time, even as short as twenty four minutes, improved their cognitive performance. The University of Lincoln, in England and the City University of New York in independent studies both found that short naps helped a person identify more connections and aids in recalling information. Short naps that include deep sleep help the brain to decide what information needs to be stored in long term memory.
As finals loom, and the student body becomes more stressed out, it becomes even more imperative to find time to sleep. Instead of wasting time on Facebook, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, and the many other ways to avoid work, take a nap. In the end you will feel more rested, have retained information better, and have the ability to focus. You will be amazed at what your body can naturally accomplish when you treat it right.