Living the college life holds several expectations — attending drunken parties, cheering on your team at home games, and of course, pulling all-nighters to cram for those upcoming final exams. As finals week approaches, the halls of the library fill with more and more students cramming last minute for a final or desperately working to finish final projects. Often, many of these students sacrifice hours of sleep for a few more hours of studying to increase their odds of success. This phenomenon is almost a part of the college life culture, but what are some of the side effects of forgoing needed sleep to study for finals?
According to the American Sleep Association, individuals should be getting at least seven to nine hours of sleep a night. This, however, is not always an option for many hard working college students.
“I would say that per night, I get about five to six hours of sleep,” Alexis Lundy, senior in family and consumer science, said. “I try to get some sleep before a test so I try my best to not stay up too terribly late.”
Lundy is not alone when it comes to giving up sleep for school work. According to Harvard University’s Division of Sleep Medicine, “only 11 percent of American college students sleep well, and 40 percent of students feel well rested only two days per week.”
The trend of trading sleep for study time remains a constant in the college sphere. The question is, is the tradeoff worth the side effects associated with sleep deprivation?
“Losing sleep directly affects our brain’s ability to retain and use information,” Julie Gibbs, director of Health Promotion and Nutrition Counseling at Lafene Health Center, said. “Therefore, it is less likely that we will do well in school and work.”
According to Gibbs, in addition to hindering the brain’s ability to retain information, other side effects of losing sleep on a regular basis can include higher stress levels, overeating and even feelings of depression.
Don Hedden, director of Cardiopulmonary and Sleep Disorder Services at Mercy Regional Health Center, said that as one loses sleep, their cognitive functions deteriorate, which results in difficulty assimilating facts or concepts.
“Your performance during the day — mental, physical and emotional standpoint — is directly affected by the amount of sleep you get the night before,” Hedden said. “Sleep restores your body, particularly stages 3 and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Restoration cannot occur without sleep. What one might expect to see in a person who is sleep deprived is a lack of ability to concentrate and delayed responses to external stimuli.”
Hedden also said that studies show that an adult who has been awake for more than 19 hours has the reaction time impact of someone who is legally drunk.
“All-nighters may seem like a good way to prepare, but there comes a point when the mind simply cannot retain anymore,” Hedden said. “The ability to understand concepts will decrease as well.”
According to Hedden, studying while sleep deprived would need to be simple memorization, not concept learning or application. He also thinks it’s important to consider the effects of pulling an all-nighter when it’s time to apply the material you’ve learned and your ability to perform. With your mental abilities depleted, simple things like understanding a question and key points may be more difficult. Ultimately, performance will suffer.
Downing Red Bull like a mad man and popping caffeine pills like candy may not be the answer either.
“Don’t think that if you drink a lot of coffee or energy drinks you can offset this,” Hedden continues. “Your body may be kept awake, but your cognitive and mental capacities are not.”
With all that said, while you prepare for finals week, it’s important to keep in mind that one of the most valuable assets you will need in your finals prep kit is adequate amounts of sleep.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a few ways to promote good sleeping habits are to go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning, avoid large meals before bedtime, avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime, and avoid nicotine.