Emily Bloch, a senior at Southern Methodist University, will receive her degree in Psychology this month. Bloch, along with many of her peers, remembers the hard work and sleepless nights required to receive her top-tier education at SMU. Many college students feel the need to pull all-nighters in preparation for finals, but Bloch knows from experience that sleep deprivation can greatly affect cognitive ability.
“At the end of my freshman year, I had to pull an all-nighter the night before my last final,” Bloch said. “I was so exhausted from staying up all night and didn’t have time to pack up my dorm room, so I headed to the airport with my clothes in trash bags.”
“I remember feeling like a drunk person walking around the airport with trash bags as my carry-on luggage,” Bloch said. “I was so out of it I almost got on the wrong plane. It was a nightmare.”
Luckily, Bloch made it home that day and fared well on her finals, but knows that on nights she doesn’t get her usual seven hours of sleep, she will not feel like herself the next day, even experiencing weird food cravings and acne breakouts.
With the end of the semester fast approaching, many college students will be looking at a some sleepless nights in efforts to receive more impressive GPAs, yet recent studies conducted by the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom have found that sleep is the most important thing in obtaining cognitive recall.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends seven hours of sleep as the minimum amount of sleep adults need to get every night. Getting less than seven hours of sleep a night poses health issues, like increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, mental distress, coronary heart disease and early death, according to the CDC.
And it gets worse.
A recent study conducted by University of Oxford and the Royal Society for Public Health found that lack of sleep causes people to be vulnerable to cognitive impairment. The report found that after 17 hours without sleep, alertness sharply declines and wakefulness is equivalent to someone with a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent. After 24 hours without sleep, alertness is equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.1 percent, above the .08 percent legal limit.
In other words, you’re effectively drunk.
Dr. Angela Prosise of Dallas Sleep has found that poor sleep hygiene, such as looking at electronics, like the iPad or iPhone, in bed, is why most people only get around five hours of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep per night.
“The light from the electronic device stimulates the brain, which makes it think it’s daytime,” Dr. Prosise said.
University of Oxford and the Royal Society for Public Health’s “Waking up to the health benefits of sleep” report found that vigilant attention, complex attention, and working memory are the first things to fade when an individual gets less than seven hours of sleep.
Olivia Pakula, a freshman student-athlete planning on majoring in forensic psychology, knows the value of sleep. Pakula tries to get eight hours of sleep every night, but knows that if she doesn’t get at least seven hours, her cognitive ability will greatly depreciate. And as the semester comes to a close, Pakula has noticed that it’s harder and harder to get the amount of sleep she needs to feel well.
“I know if I don’t get at least seven hours I’ll feel sick all day the next day, like I have the flu,” Pakula said. “It’s horrible.”
But college students should take another look at their sleep — or lack thereof — and get enough of it. Derek Barnes, a marketing major, normally gets no more than six hours of sleep a night. Barnes has experienced the “drunken” manner after pulling an all-nighter and knows he will not perform well on tests if he doesn’t get enough sleep.
“I feel like a zombie the day after I pull an all-nighter or when I get an hour or two of sleep,” Barnes said.
Students aren’t the only ones affected by sleep loss on college campuses —professors have also experienced the stress associated with sleep deprivation. Professor Brita Andercheck of SMU’s sociology department knows that getting enough sleep is necessary to be an effective teacher in the classroom the following day.
“I just feel sluggish and slow if I get less than six hours of sleep, which is only rarely,” Andercheck said. “And it only gets worse in the afternoon.”
Emily Jacobson, a sophomore majoring in business and marketing, gets about six hours of sleep a night due to her demanding class schedule. Jacobson has pulled about eight to 10 all-nighters each semester since freshman year.
“Of course I’m so slow the day after an all-nighter. I have to make sure I don’t have anything major due the next day,” Jacobson said.
According to University of Oxford and the Royal Society for Public Health’s study, the public ranked sleep the second most important activity for health and wellbeing, behind not smoking.
Given this growing international concern, these are a few tips when trying to get a better night sleep. Make sure to exercise daily and maintain a healthy diet, with limited caffeine beginning in the afternoon. Also, have regularly-timed sleep cycles, and avoid technology just before going to sleep.