Here’s a weird thing that humans do: sleep. What a strange behavior to have evolved. There you are, carrying on with your day, doing whatever it is you d0, and all of sudden your body goes, “Okay, it’s time we drop everything and pretend to be dead for 8 hours. Also, some hallucinations.”
In case you’re wondering, not all animals sleep. Bullfrogs, for example, don’t need to. But humans have to, or else some pretty bad things start happening (see below). Interestingly, scientists aren’t really sure why. The best guess seems to be that when you’re awake, the brain is busy making neural connections, and when you’re sleeping, it’s managing and strengthening those connections; however, it can’t do both at the same time. Professor Maiken Nedergaard, an expert on sleep (and, ostensibly, on names with vowels) at the University of Rochester, describes it this way: “You can think of it like having a house party. You can either entertain the guests or clean up the house, but you can’t really do both at the same time.”
So what are the consequences of not sleeping enough? Here’s a brief list:
- It makes you a worse decision-maker
- Related: driving sleepy may be as bad as driving drunk
- This is sort of obvious, but a lack of sleeping can leave you feeling irritable and moody
- This is less obvious: you get the munchies (i.e. you eat more junkfood)
- A lack of sleep and depression are complexly linked: they might contribute to one another
- It can prevent you from building muscle
- It affects how well you remember things (so staying up all night cramming is counterproductive)
- Sleep loss has been linked to a variety of things you’d rather avoid, such as heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, and diabetes
So basically, sleep makes you a worse thinker—which means it’s particularly important for college students to get enough of it. (It’s been the subject for UNH wellness bloggers not once, not twice, not thrice, but fource [okay, that’s not a word] times before!) The college experience can also make it particularly tough to carve out time to sleep. Maybe you’ve got hours of work to do, and you won’t be able to fall asleep until you’ve crossed a few things off the to-do list. Or your friends are hanging out, and FOMO (actually a real thing) keeps you awake. Or you can’t stop thinking about how summer’s nearly here and you still haven’t gotten that internship.
One thing you might notice from this list is, when we don’t get enough sleep, it’s often because something (or things) is causing you stress. Stress is, apparently, one of the biggest causes of sleep deprivation–and this means that addressing your sleep problem might mean addressing whatever’s bothering you.
Of course, it might not be a stress problem. You might just really want to finish all of the new season of Daredevil in one sitting. Which, I don’t blame you: it’s really good. But, assuming you’re not a bullfrog, sleep is important. If you’re interested in getting better at sleeping, you might consider Health Services Power Nap program. You can even attend in pajamas! Bonus points if they have bullfrogs on them.
Health Services provides free Sleep Kits and you can make an appointment for an individual sleep consultations with a wellness educators/counselors by calling (603) 862-3823.