OK, so not exactly.
Sleep is absolutely vital to our health and wellbeing, both mentally and physically. Lack of sleep affects our thinking and comprehension, mood, and strength. The American Psychological Association explains that we all require different amounts of sleep to function well. On average 16 hours of wakefulness and 8 hours of sleep is just right. Of course, some people can cope with just 6 hours sleep and others must have 10. It’s a myth, however, that our need for sleep declines with age. As we get older our ability to sleep for 8 hours straight may be diminished, but we still need that much to function well day-to-day!
So how much do we actually understand about the value of sleep? Below we investigate why you really should be sleeping for study and how it could improve our memory, mood and capacity to cope with the stresses of life.
Sleep and Memory
It’s not a new concept that sleep helps us remember. Psychologists and neuroscientists are at-least in agreement on this one and there is more research on its way that looks to support the claim. Neuroscientist Ron Davis of The Scripps Research Institute in Florida helped to conduct a study investigating the way sleep deactivates our ‘forgetting signal’. Early studies by psychologists indicate that sleep assists in memory retention because it blocks out the stimuli and thought processes that get in the way of memory consolidation. Davis’ research supports this claim from a different perspective. The study found that sleep reduced the levels of dopamine being transmitted, or the ‘forgetting signal’. Davis elaborates, “As sleep progresses to deeper levels, dopamine neurons become less reactive to stimuli and this leads to more stable memories.” This sounds complicated, but put simply sleep is vital to forming memory. This is especially important when studying for exams, but it goes without saying we need to remember stuff every day.
Of course no one who is in a bad mood thinks that they’re in a bad mood. And if you try to tell a sleep-deprived person to “calm down” or that they’re “being irrational” chances are the response you get is not going to be a positive one. When we’re not getting enough sleep we might not be a pleasure to be around at times. Everything seems harder when you’re tired. And when you come up against hurdles, unexpected problems, or bad news it is a lot harder to take if you haven’t had a healthy eight hours. Sure, it’s going to happen sometimes. Life gets in the way, or maybe you’re out enjoying yourself. Every now and then it’s to be expected. But if you put in the effort to give your body the rest it needs and deserves, you’ll be able to not only cope with the stresses of daily life more easily, you’ll be able to do it with a smile.
Causes of Sleeplessness
If you’re finding it difficult to get to sleep there are lots of reasons that might be. Stress and emotional problems are often a large contributing factor, but others include the temperature of the room, the time of day, the comfort of the bed, your exposure to screens before you turn the light off, and your sensitivity to outside noises. If you’re having trouble sleeping or would simply like to improve your night’s sleep take a look at your bedroom, your schedule and your lifestyle to try to figure out some changes you could make to help with this.
How to Beat Insomnia
It seems simple, but sometimes getting to sleep is the most difficult thing. Don’t stress! It’s far more common than you think and for that reason, there has been a lot of scientific research into the subject. According to sleep researchers, there’s lots of different tactics you can try to help you get a solid eight hours. Different things work for different people, so you might have to play around with a few strategies before you find the one for you. Here are a few to get you started:
- Doing the best you can to keep your sleep schedule regular let’s your body fall into a nice kind of rhythm. So if you know you have to get up at 7am every weekday, aiming to be in bed by 10pm every night offers you the best chance of a good sleep.
- Be strict with yourself about the use of screens before bed. Make a rule that you will put your phone down for the night at a specific time. Avoid watching TV shows or scrolling the internet in bed.
- Avoid caffeine four to six hours before bedtime. If that doesn’t seem to be working, try cutting it out completely for a while.
- Exercise! Tire yourself out in the healthiest way possible.
- Yoga and meditation are fantastic ways to practice calming your mind in a disciplined way, each involving techniques to control the state of your body and mind.
- Make sure your sleep space is as comfortable as it can be. Investing in a good mattress, for instance, is really worthwhile. You spend approximately eight hours of your life in bed every day, so it’s easy to justify making sure it’s a comfortable space.
- Experiment! There are a variety of podcasts and apps designed to assist in falling asleep. Some people need absolute silence for sleep, whereas others find white noise or ambient sound to be helpful.
It’s fair to say that we don’t always get the sleep we need and everybody knows this can be a bad thing for both our body and mind. Some nights you might miss some of your precious time for a good reason, like a dinner party with friends. Other nights you might be working late, or having trouble sleeping. If you’ve got a deadline to meet, you might have to sacrifice some sleep and that’s OK; it’s regular sleep deprivation that will affect your learning.
Whatever your sleep cycle is like, it is a good idea to examine your bedtime routine and see if any tweaks or adjustments can be made because the positive affects of deep and regular sleep will reverberate through your personal and professional life.