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The Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

College students often have difficulty juggling and maintaining their obligations to school, work, and their friends. This may lead to staying up late at night writing a term paper, going out with friends to night clubs, and putting more hours in at work in order to get the money a college student needs. However, all of this can lead to sleep deprivation as well.

Although some students simply feel they don’t have enough time to accomplish everything, other students deliberately deprive themselves of sleep in order to achieve a natural high. However, not only is a vast majority of college students sleep deprived, an astounding 50% of adults in the United States are not getting enough sleep as well.

The average person spends one third of their life sleeping, which may seem like a waste of time, but the fact is, sleep is vital for our cognitive health and functioning. The fifth stage of sleep, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is especially important as our brain works its hardest in order to organize long-term memory, integrate new information, repair and renew tissues, nerve cells and other biochemicals; preparing our bodies for the proceeding day.

The effects of sleep deprivation were demonstrated by Randy Gardner, who stayed awake for eleven days in order to obtain an entry in the Guiness Book of World Records. Gardner’s symptoms grew in severity with each day that he did not sleep. The first few days, he experienced difficulty focusing his eyes, moodiness and irritability. On the fourth day he began to experience hallucinations, the first being that he imagined he was a famous black football player.

The proceeding days, Gardner experienced more hallucinations, his speech became slow and slurred, he had difficulty naming common objects, and had frequent memory lapses. The last days of the experiment, Gardner became increasingly paranoid, had a short attention span, and a expressionless appearance.

Although these are not symptoms for the common sleep-deprived person, they demonstrate the effects prolonged sleep deprivation can have on an individual. For most people who are sleep deprived, they may experience impaired performance, irritability, lack of concentration, and daytime drowsiness. And because sleep is associated with a restorative process, a sleep-deprived person may suffer from a weakened immune system.

Also, sleep deprivation may not just effect an individual, but the welfare of others as well. Approximately one third of drivers will fall asleep behind the wheel at least once in their lifetime, endangering the lives of others.

Sleep deprivation is especially hard on your brain when you are trying to do mental tasks, such as tests. Typically, a sleepy person’s brain works harder and accomplishes less than the brain of a well-rested person. A study was conducted to examine how the brains of healthy young people functioned while taking a simple word test after staying awake for 35 hours.

Researchers found that during the test while many parts of the brain burst with activity, another part of the brain, the language center, completely shut down. Some of the participants tried to overcome this by shifting activity to other areas of the brain, and although they performed better than the other sleep-deprived participants, they still did not perform as well when rested.

The longer a person stays awake, the more sleep he or she requires. Sleep Debt accumulates when personal sleep requirements are not met. As Sleep Debt accumulates, it build up quickly and does not decrease spontaneously. Repaying sleep debt requires overtime, causing daytime drowsiness that urges a person to sleep or causes a person to accidentally sleep in, despite the buzzing of an alarm clock.

People who are sleep deprived are also depriving their bodies of the critical REM sleep, which causes them to go into REM Rebound. REM Rebound is when a person experiences an increased percentage of time spent in REM sleep, which can lasts for several nights.

So, how much sleep should you be getting? Six to eight hours per a day is the average amount a person needs. However, sleep requirements do vary from person to person, as some people are naturally short or long-sleepers, similar to how some people are considered morning or night people.

Jim Horne, PhD, director of the sleep research laboratory in Loughborough University in England, answered this question quite simply as, “The amount of sleep we require is what we need not to be sleepy in the daytime.” Overall, individuals can become in tune with their bodies and realize whether or not they are getting the rest that they need.

As you can see, sleep is something we desperately need. And although our society is very bustling and restless, we need to place more emphasis on rest and relaxation. Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” is not just a catchy saying, as there is a lot of truth to it. Sleep allows us to perform our best and be successful in our lives while being a critical component of our health and wellbeing.