Crazy schedules and heavy workloads for college students make the infamous all-nighter inevitable, but a lack of sleep has detrimental effects, both physically and mentally, and may be literally killing you.
Americans spend about 36 years of their life sleeping, according to a March 21 New York Post article. Even though adequate sleep is needed to function normally, many students are not getting enough of it.
College students get around 6 to 6.9 hours of sleep every night, according to the University of Georgia Health Center. This is below the seven to nine hours of sleep recommended to 18 to 25-year-olds, according to a Feb. 2015 National Sleep Foundation article. Research on sleep among college students showed that sleep deprivation is related to depression, insomnia, stress and anxiety, increased weight gain and obesity, increased automobile accidents and a weakened immune system, according to the University of Georgia Health Center.
“[Sleep deprivation] starts to compromise [the] immune system,” professor of neuroscience and behavior Doug Wallace said. “There’s a lot of pathogens out there starting to shut down your immune system and make you more susceptible [to sickness].”
Along with increased likelihood for illness, sleep deprivation may cause lethargy, grogginess, slow processing speeds and a higher level of disengagement from tasks.
Students may feel “a lack of focus and fatigue,” senior psychology major Cariel Figueroa said. “My body [is] telling me ‘you need to sleep,’ and I could just feel a disconnect between my body and mind.”
This mind-body disconnect is exacerbated with insufficient sleep, and the symptoms don’t stop at fatigue.
“There is research that shows sleep deprivation has [negative] effects on cognitive abilities such as maintaining attention, reaction time and overall performance,” professor of cognitive psychology Keith Millis said. “It’s generally thought that sleep is required to maintain an optimum level for a given person.”
To achieve an optimum level of sleep, one must go through the two types of sleep: non-REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, and REM sleep, according to a 2019 National Institutes of Health article
Non-REM sleep consists of three stages and is the shift from wakefulness into deep sleep, according to a 2019 National Institutes of Health article. Once in REM sleep, breathing and heart rate increases, the body becomes paralyzed and higher brain activity can be measured.
Achieving optimum sleep through the non-REM and REM stages is vital for maintaining normal brain functioning. This can be measured in laboratory settings.
A biological mechanism for removing toxins in the brain during sleep was discovered by scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center, according to a 2013 National Institutes of Health article. Cerebrospinal fluid, which is found in the brain and spinal cord, moves through vessels in the brain and flushes out beta-amyloid proteins; these proteins are also found in brains with progressive Alzheimer’s disease, according to the 2013 NIH article.
If sleep deprivation interrupts the brain system from flushing out these beta-amyloid proteins, then it may be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease, according to an April 2018 Business Insider article.
Another effect of sleep deprivation is the disruption of memory consolidation.
“If a student is pulling an all-nighter, that might be detrimental because they’re not getting sleep, which gives the ability for the brain to [consolidate] those memories,” Millis said. “It’s better to distribute your studying across time so there’s more opportunities for the brain to lock in those memories.”
Sleep deprivation compromises your immune system, makes you more susceptible to sickness, reduces attention and reaction time, increases depression and anxiety, reduces academic performance and increases beta-amyloid proteins in the brain, which may be linked to Alzeimer’s disease. Missing out on precious sleep will literally kill you.