Over break, many college students utilize their more open-ended schedules to “catch up on sleep.” It’s a common phrase not only on college campuses but everywhere in a society that prioritizes productivity— where packed schedules and running from place to place reign supreme over rest. People boast on social media about hustling and “the grind”, seemingly alluding to the notion that some prosperous future awaits those who work, work, work, with no play.
Even more dangerous is the game of Suffering Olympics that students engage in to earn the accolade of the “Most Sleep Deprived” or “Most Stressful Schedule”. Think of the times you’ve heard someone complain just a little too gleefully about their insane 27-credit schedule, or how they work 73 hours a week while also attending clown college. Before finals especially, it’s not uncommon to overhear conversations where one student proclaims, “I only got four hours of sleep last night!” prompting another to quip, “Well, lucky you. I only slept for three!”
And yet, denying your body the rest it requires isn't to the point of sleep deprivation is not some awesome conquest over the mortal coil, a demonstration of how especially willful one is, to be able to ignore the needs of the flesh. Ultimately, it is your own health that emerges as the biggest loser.
This isn’t new knowledge. Most students are aware of the detrimental impact of not getting enough hours of sleep. Even so, all of us commonly find reasons to sacrifice a good night's rest. Whether it be to cram for an exam or catch up with friends, or even just to play a couple extra hours of Candy Crush, we often ignore sleep. Perhaps, however, knowledge of the extent of this decision’s effects on our health could convince more of us to prioritize sleep in the midst of our busy schedules.
Take for example, weight gain. “The Freshman 15” is often blamed on the lack of nutritious options in dining halls and access to home cooked meals. While this is certainly a factor, it is important to note that your own sleep schedule could be a culprit of rising numbers on the scale. This is due to the impact of sleep deprivation on two hormones: ghrelin, which causes us to feel hungry, and leptin, which promotes feelings of fullness. Lack of sleep decreases our levels of leptin while increasing levels of ghrelin — leading us to be more likely to scour our cupboards for a midnight snack and subsequently, overeat.
Unfortunately, it’s not the nutrient-dense snacks that you’re likely to seek out either. A study performed at US Berkeley found that sleep deprivation impairs the brain regions that perform complex judgements and decisions, leading our more primal brain regions to take control of decision-making. This inhibits our ability to control our reward-seeking desires — leading sleep-deprived participants to be far more likely to select sugary and high-calorie snacks than those who slept for the recommended seven to eight hours. Ultimately, this puts night owls at a higher risk of weight gain.
As your waistline suffers from your lack of rest, so does your immune system. Sleep is essential for the body’s ability to build up its forces of antibodies and cytokines that combat viruses and bacteria. Without a sufficient force of these infection-fighting substances, you are much more likely to suffer from illnesses and subsequently, take longer to recover. In a global pandemic, is it really worth it to lose valuable immunity just so you can trawl the Wikipedia pages of various Bronze-Age art forms?
Even if your sleep-starved body is able to ward off pathogenic invaders, your existing body systems will begin to falter. This is because a lack of sleep halts the repair processes “on your heart, blood vessels, brain and other tissues that help keep chronic disease at bay”. Without the ability to sufficiently perform these restorative functions, we put ourselves at a higher risk for conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. This also explains the slugginess that accompanies a night of too little rest … your body, if not adequately repaired, cannot be expected to adequately function!
So, yes, there may be pride in being the “Most Productive Student” among your friends and classmates. But here’s a secret: all the cool kids (the ones that are really cool) know a primal truth oft forgotten – it’s not a point of pride to be sleep deprived. It’s not some personal accomplishment. Especially in the era of self-care and self-love, treating your body as nothing but a studying meat machine that can run on fumes isn’t just unfashionable, it’s pitiable.
By taking better care of yourself, you may miss out on late-night hangouts or the winning bid in the sleeplessness leaderboards. But you just may find that, frustratingly, your mother/father/grandma/other well-meaning-but-kinda-naggy figure was right – you’ll feel better with sleep.
So, tonight, we’re assigning the first ever Daily Cardinal homework assignment: get home at a reasonable hour, tuck in and get those zzz’s.