Sleep. Do we need it?

Sleep is often the neglected part of a student’s day due to all of the responsibilities which they have to accomplish. Though we may only feel tired from a lack of sleep, science suggests that it can have more detrimental effects on our body. Some of the effects that a lack of sleep can cause are weight gain, personality shifts, and memory trouble, and it can cause us to be unsafe during the day.

According to Jakke Tamminen, a psychologist specializing in sleep and memory, a lack of sleep can lead to irritability, depression, anger, and anxiety. These reactions are due to the fact that, when we are tired, the amygdala, the part of our brain which controls our emotions, is unable to properly communicate with the medial prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for mediating our emotional responses. Thus, the lack of sleep heightens our adverse emotional reactions. In addition to unwanted irrational behavior, a lack of sleep can cause more risky behavior. A statistic by ( a company focusing on health and wellness) says that we are 32% less aware during the day by just missing 1 to 1 ½ hours of sleep. The CDC also reports that being tired behind the wheel can cause slower reaction times, such as slamming on the brakes at the last second–which can lead to accidents. Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety supports this claim by adding that people who sleep for 5 or 6 hours are two times more likely to be in a car accident than those who sleep 7 hours or more.

An additional side effect is memory loss. When we sleep, the brain makes repairs and processes the memories from the day, however, when we do not get adequate sleep, the brain is unable to handle everything and starts to delete some of the day’s memories. Research by Michele Bellesi of the Marche Polytechnic University has found that a lack of sleep can cause the brain to eat itself. In Bellesi’s study, he had three different test groups of rats: the rats who could sleep as long as they wanted, rats who were woken up at random points, and rats who were forced to stay awake for five days. The results showed that the astrocyte, a brain cell responsible for clearing excess connections was 13.5% more active in the chronically sleep deprived mice than their counterparts. In layman’s terms, this means the brain is eating itself.

Another surprising side effect of a lack of sleep is weight gain. A study by the University of Chicago shows that within four to six days people with sleep loss could not regulate their blood sugar and had symptoms similar to people with prediabetes.

Taken together, we now see all of the different side effects of not getting enough sleep. You may be wondering: how do I get more sleep? I am too busy to sleep. Well, according to the National Institute of Mental Health we can improve sleep by improving our sleep hygiene. Items which would be considered sleep hygiene would be: not drinking caffeine or other stimulants 6 hours before bed, getting some exercise during the day, and controlling the environment of the bedroom (e.g., temperature and lighting). Further, to help us go to sleep, we should practice relaxing our brains with imagery to calm our mind and clear the thoughts which prevent us from sleeping. In conclusion, though it’s difficult, try to make sleep a priority.