Ask any given group of high school or college students whether or not they have ever pulled an all-nighter, and at least one – or all – - will answer yes. One of my friends, a self-professed borderline insomniac, says that with the overwhelming quantities of schoolwork, sleep seems like “a waste of time.”
Many students believe that all-nighters are a ‘rite of passage’ and that ‘it’s kinda fun,’ said Pamela Thacher, associate professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University (Canton, N.Y.). Thacher studied sleep patterns of college students and their correlation to grade point average and found that the students who regularly pulled all-nighters, on average, had lower grade point averages than those who did not (ScienceDaily, 2007).
With the copious amounts of studying and schoolwork, 24-hour restaurants, availability of caffeinated drinks within reach, and ubiquitous distractions such as Facebook and text messages, it may seem a necessary evil to cut into precious sleep time. Instead of the 8- to 10-hour slumber suitable for students, college students cram sleep in between extra-curricular activities and homework, and for high school students, we’re not so sure ‘when’ they get in their extra ‘Zzzzs’. This trend, despite being quite common, should not be pursued: a lack of sleep can lead to problems in both short and long term physical and mental capacity, including but not limited to weight gain or loss and depression. While it seems easy to borrow time from sleep time, doing so can also negatively impact success in school and on tests(National Sleep Foundation).
Sleep follows the pattern of circadian rhythms, a 24-hour biological clock that organisms on all levels of life follow which typically follow the pattern of daylight, (even in its absence); Organisms receive internal signals from the external light, and any disruption of these rhythms appear to have negative effects. For example, if you have ever had jet lag, you have experienced the temporary effects of a disrupted circadian rhythm; you may have been fatigued, disoriented, or even sick to your stomach. If your sleep schedule is out of whack, so are your circadian rhythms, and therefore the natural pattern of your day and thus, your output.
Sleep promotes physical and mental restoration. While in slumber, our neural circuits and patterns are tightened and information we learn throughout the day is reinforced and cemented. Memorized facts are transferred from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex, which is primarily responsible for long-term memory storage (Weise, 2010). If you have ever heard the adage that studying right before you sleep is effective, this idea proves this fact. Studying before sleeping is beneficial to test taking – - but we also think you need to study way before the night before, not only the night before.
Sleep involves entering into and vacillating between cycles, between lighter and deeper sleep. The majority of our mental restoration occurs during the phases of deep sleep (also known as Rapid Eye Movement sleep or REM sleep). During REM, we have our most vivid, memorable dreams (in comparison to our mundane dreams of every day life), and our eyes move rapidly behind our eyelids (hence the name). The tightening of our neural circuits also happens during this phase, so it is necessary to sleep long enough to go through enough sleep cycles so that we can acquire the maximum number of hours of REM sleep (ThinkQuest). Studies show that the mentally challenged (people with an IQ less than 70), spend less amounts of time in REM sleep. Even though it has not fully been proven, there appears to be a correlation between intelligence and dreaming and REM sleep (ThinkQuest).
So even if all of your friends seem to be chugging Red Bull and pulling all-nighters before the big exam, consider what is proven to be biologically effective, and really, what makes you function and feel your best: a good, restful sleep!
1) “All-Nighters Equal Lower Grades.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 01 Dec. 2007. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071130162518.htm>.
2) “Depression and Sleep.” National Sleep Foundation. N.p., 2011. Web. 03 Nov. 2012. <http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/depression-and-sleep>.
3) “REM Sleep.” ThinkQuest. Oracle Foundation, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. <http://library.thinkquest.org/25553/english/basics/brain/rem.shtml>.
4) Weise, Elizabeth. “Don’t Knock Naps, They Make You Smarter.” USA Today. Gannett, 22 Feb. 2010. Web. 03 Nov. 2012. <http://content.usatoday.com/communities/sciencefair/post/2010/02/dont-knock-naps-they-make-you-smarter/1>.