By Kimberly Wei Kim Ngoh, 2019-2020 SCS Student Advising Leader:
A midday cup of coffee to fight off being sleepy seems highly justified. Not only will it curb your desire to ‘rest your eyes’ during a lecture, but it also tastes good; depending on how you like it. However, unbeknownst to most of us is that the quarter-life of caffeine is 12 hours. That’s right—even when we lose the jitters from the caffeine we had at noon, a quarter of it is still swimming around in our system at midnight, at the risk of interfering with a good night’s sleep. We all vaguely understand that sleep is good for you—good for your memory, your health, your eating habits, yadda yadda yadda, but as college students, we are no stranger to sleep deprivation.
I had always felt that I had decent time management skills until I enrolled in college and struggled to keep up with everything. But as time goes on, you will learn to organize yourself and keep things in check (for the most part). One of the things I have learned to prioritize is sleep. I’m no sleep expert, but I have felt the effects of high-quality sleep in my day-to-day life and so I have sought to understand how it helps. In ‘Why We Sleep’, Professor Matthew Walker, director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, uncovers truths from his exploration of sleep and its direct link to changing lives for the better.
In short, Professor Matthew Walker highlights the results of studies that point to detrimental effects caused by a lack of adequate sleep. For example, an hour of sleep lost in the Spring, due to daylight savings time, resulted in a 24% increase in heart attacks the following day, for a 1.6 billion large study. Conversely, an hour of sleep gained in the fall was met with a 21% reduction in heart attacks the following day. It isn’t just our cardiovascular system at risk here—our reproductive health or immune system is affected as well. Furthermore, it is not just our bodies that suffer, but our minds too. From the glymphatic system in our brain to the deep emotional center, the amygdala, the amount of sleep one receives is labeled as a factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease or anxiety and depression.
Thankfully, it is never too late to start sleeping better, despite the compounding effects from previous sub-optimal sleep. Recommendations from Dr. Walker includes keeping your room cool at 60 to 70 °F, which allows for the brain and body to drop their core temperatures by 2 to 2.5 °F. In addition, darkness at night is what triggers the release of melatonin, which tells our brain that it is time to sleep. As such, going into bed staring at a lit screen will hinder our brain from releasing a notification for sleep. Another important practice is regularity: going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. However, this proves difficult for those of us who suffer from ‘social jet lag’, where we alter our sleep schedules on the weekend to make way for social events held later at night. Come Sunday morning, we are forced to get up earlier, rearranging our body clock yet again. Planning in advance to curb this will help, although Dr. Walker emphasizes that it is up to us what we choose to do with this information.
When it comes to sleeping aids, one may credit alcohol at night for a way to get sleepy. However, Dr. Walker labels alcohol as a sedative, adding that “sedation is not sleep”. It also segments sleep, causing one to wake up feeling groggy and unrefreshed. In addition, melatonin is available over-the-counter, but should not be depended on for sleep. Dr. Walker advises a dosage of 0.5 to 3.0mg only, in order to avoid shutting down the production of melatonin by one’s body. Alternatively, Dr. Walker encourages meditation as a way to mediate stress interfering with one’s sleep.
All in all, ‘Why We Sleep’ reveals the science behind the importance of sleep and what we can do to achieve restful sleep, and hopefully, a long life. While the book contains a more comprehensive guide on the 5W1H’s of sleep, a podcast episode focused on popular questions about sleep [10 Percent Happier with Dan Harris] may be easier to digest on your commute to school, work, or as you eat. Ironically, you may give either a read or listen as you prepare for some shut-eye, although Dr. Walker does instruct for all activities to cease an hour prior to sleeping, in order to get a good night’s rest.