Uni is a fun and exciting part of every student's life. But it's also a part when you have to study a lot to get those good grades.
And read the tricky thing:
Getting enough sleep can boost your academic performance, while sleep deprivation can wreck your success completely. If you’re now interested to know more about how sleep impacts your studying and to apply this knowledge to your life, then let’s dive in!
Sleep Improves Your Memory
First things first.
Every discipline you study requires you to memorize tons of information. Even though it’s still not clearly stated how exactly memory consolidation works, many scientists agree that sleep plays a major part in this process. The primary brain structures involved here are the hippocampus (the part of the brain that encodes and forms short-term memories) and the neocortex (the brain region that transforms short-term memories into long-term ones and stores them).
Earlier, it was believed that memory consolidation happens during the REM-sleep stage. However, today’s studies suggest that slow-wave sleep (SWS) or deep sleep has a more important role in this process. Given the fact that the average sleep duration of American students is 6.5 hours per night, which is below the recommended minimum of 7 hours, you can imagine how this may affect memory formation.
Along with that, sleep shortage is perceived as huge stress by the body. Top it with a large study load and extracurricular activities — and you will get a stressed student who might even develop chronic insomnia and mild memory impairment due to lack of sleep.
Sleep Boosts Your Creativity
Creativity is an important cognitive skill that may come in handy for both studying and work. If you want to develop it, you absolutely need to get enough sleep.
Well, there’s thig thing called pattern recognition. It’s a phenomenon that helps our brain connect unrelated ideas in an unusual way, and this can help you find extraordinary solutions to everyday problems. Typically, brain activity linked to this phenomenon occurs during REM sleep. But when you’re sleep-deprived, the amount of REM sleep decreases, thereby making you less creative.
Now, some people use lucid dreaming to boost their creativity. It’s a practice of staying conscious and controlling your dreams during sleep. But the tricky thing is, your brain remains pretty active during lucid dreaming, so you don’t rest properly. That means you can only practice it after you get your portion of quality sleep.
Overall, having an established sleep schedule will allow you to fall asleep faster and hence, spend more time sleeping. This, in turn, will help you generate more ideas and build new neural pathways for your creativity boost.
Sleep Enhances Your Cognitive Abilities
A good student should be able to concentrate on the information they receive during lectures and to stay focused when working on academic tasks. But the lack of sleep may adversely impact your ability to concentrate and decrease your cognitive performance overall.
There are two reasons why this happens:
- Energy depletion. As we sleep, our body restores the deposits of glycogen and glucose — the two most important nutrients that work as fuel for our body cells. Since the brain consumes around 20% of all the glucose-derived energy, the lack of this nutrient can make your brain starve. So, it won’t be able to perform to its full capacity, which will result in difficulty performing everyday tasks.
- Waste build-up. During deep sleep, your brain literally cleans itself with the help of the cellular pathway that flushes out all the byproducts that have built up during the day. If you lack sleep, this cleanse may not happen to a full extent, meaning the waste will continue to accumulate, leading to headaches, slow reaction time, and concentration issues.
As you can see, insufficient sleep doesn’t contribute to good academic performance and may have much more serious consequences if it becomes a chronic issue.
Sleep Allows You to Control Your Emotions Better
Emotional regulation is an important part of successful social interactions. Whether you are having a good time with your uni friends or meeting with your professor, you should be able to properly read social cues and execute appropriate emotional behaviour.
Now, not getting enough sleep may affect your behaviour in a negative way.
The reason is: Sleep deprivation may overstimulate the amygdala.
The amygdala is the brain region responsible for immediate emotional responses to different stimuli, both positive and negative. The intensity of these responses, however, is controlled by the prefrontal cortex region, which basically acts as a ‘stop’ signal for the fired-up amygdala.
But when you’re short on sleep, the connection between these two regions of the brain weakens, so the prefrontal cortex becomes unable to control the amygdala responses properly. Thus, you become more impulsive and prone to irritability and antagonizing behaviour, which may lead to worsened relationships with your project team or professors.
Along with that, sleep deprivation makes you less susceptible to constructive criticism which may add up to impulsive outbursts.
Sleep Helps You Make Reasonable Decisions
Making decisions is a regular part of your life, and your decisions affect your academic and personal success a lot.
In order to make reasonable decisions, you need to stay cool-headed and focused. This also requires certain cognitive flexibility, which will allow you to evaluate the situation from different perspectives.
Now, sleep deprivation can lead to poor cognitive flexibility by affecting the brain structure called striatum. The striatum is responsible for generating dopamine response in our brain, which allows us to stay focused and pay attention to detail. Sleep-deprived people have impaired control over this function, so they become less focused and pay less attention to possible outcomes of their decisions.
You need to learn to make your sleep a priority and to maintain a healthy balance between studies, extracurricular activities, and leisure. Clean sleep hygiene established during a whole year will serve you throughout your whole life, eliminating the risk of developing sleep-related conditions and improving the quality of your life overall.
John Breese is the CEO of Happysleepyhead, a web resource where he and his team of sleep experts share their knowledge and review various sleep products. You can find more science-backed tips to get better sleep at happysleepyhead.
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