This month we’re talking about sleep and why it’s an important self-care tool we can all tap into for free. It costs nothing, yet has amazing benefits for our mental, academic, physical, and spiritual self-care.
Want better grades in school or more clarity at work? In order to boost your academic self-care, maybe you need more sleep!
A Tale of Two Students
“What are you doing?” my college roommate asked me.
“Going to bed,” I answered, stating the obvious as I turned out the lamp on my bedside table.
“It’s only eight o’clock,” she exclaimed. “Why in the world are you going to be so early?”
“I have a big mid-term test tomorrow,” I told her.
“Don’t you need to study for it?”
“I just studied for an hour,” I told her, “and I’ll get up and study at three in the morning for an hour and then go back to sleep. Don’t worry,” I hastened to add, “I won’t turn on any lights. I’ll use the study room.”
“It’s fine,” she said. “Just tell me one thing. WHY?”
I laughed. “It’s an experiment. I read somewhere the nothing productive happens after nine pm, so I’m going to bed early. Another article said people remembered things they studied right before going to sleep. This way, I’ll remember twice as much. I hope.”
She shrugged. “Suit yourself. I’ll probably be going to bed about the time you get up at three. This art project is killing me.”
Sure enough, my roommate was still laboring away on her art project at three, so I stayed in bed to study my notes for my mid-term. I went back to sleep at four, and she went to sleep for the first time.
When my alarm went off at six, I felt energized and ready for the day. Unlike that time the previous year I’d tried to stay awake all night studying for a mid-term and ended up arriving late to the exam and forgetting half of what I’d studied.
I had no idea how my roomie could consistently stay up so late. Going to bed any later than 10 or 11 put a real strain on me.
The Academic Benefits of Getting Enough Sleep
I aced my test, and continued to do well in school, despite taking a full load and working 16-20 hours a week to help pay for my tuition. My roommate’s ability to stay up late and also get good grades amazed me. Admittedly, she slept until nine or ten most days. We both took the Sabbath off and experienced Sabbath rest once a week.
How could two people have such different sleep schedules and still function? It turns out human sleep needs have a lot in common with the human existence. Let me explain. Although we all share the same basic characteristic (vital organs, inner functioning of vital organs, body parts, etc.), no two of us turn put exactly the same.
Sleep also has the same basic characteristics. Things like non-REM (rapid eye movement sleep) and REM sleep. But every person needs those in different quantities in order to wake up feeling refreshed.
Scientists believe we need both non-REM and REM sleep in order for memory consolidation to happen. And memory consolidation, no matter what our age, will benefit us academically. Getting enough sleep helps us to avoid:
- Brain fog
- Problems making decisions
- Inability to access memory
- Lack of concentration
- Difficulties communication (sleep deprivation causes a drop in verbal intelligence)
If you feel you suffer from any of these problems on a regular basis, you might want to analyze you sleep habits. Your academic self-care depends on it.
When IS Best Time to Sleep?
Everyone has a sleep number—the ideal number of hours they need to dedicate to sleep each night. Although people may not realize it, when our sleep happens matters.
For most people, deep, restorative sleep happens most often between 8 pm and 12 am. But the experts agree our physiology determines our ideal sleep times.
I naturally wake up early, and if I sleep in until seven it feels like a miracle. Rather than fight my physiology, I’ve learned to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier.
Rather than tell someone they should go to bed at a certain time, we need to come up with questions. Chiding them because they don’t keep the same schedule we do won’t help them get enough sleep.
Asking someone (or even ourselves) if they feel rested and ready to take on the day presents a better option. Plus, it sounds less bossy and more caring.
If you think your academic self-care needs a boost, ask yourself these questions.
1. Want to Make Better Decisions?
If you have a difficult decision to make, sleep on it. In fact, don’t make the decision until you feel well-rested. Lack of sleep causes our brains to fire on fewer cylinders.
A well-rested mind makes better decisions. This may account for rash decision we made in late adolescence. That period after high school when we feel invincible and ready to take on the world but fail to get adequate sleep to support our endeavors.
2. Want to Improve Your Memory?
It turns out that article I read decades ago had it right. According to an article from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, “sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information.”
Researchers still haven’t pinpointed which kind of sleep enhances which type of memory. Declarative memory involves the consolidation of information. The kind of memory needed to pass a mid-term exam, for example. We also have procedural memories our brain has to consolidate. The memories of how to hit a golf ball or drive a car fall into this category.
If you feel like your memory has dulled, maybe you suffer from sleep deprivation, not early-onset dementia. You can always borrow my college-days hack of going over what you wanted to learn right before you go to sleep.
3. Want to Pay Better Attention?
If you feel as if your mind drifts all the time (and not just during boring meetings), you may need more sleep. According to one article, “When we are sleep deprived, our focus, attention, and vigilance drift, making it more difficult to receive information.”
Adequate sleep helps our neurons fire at the optimal speed and allows our bodies to synchronize systems for better performance. You might call sleep the nightly engine tune-up everyone needs.
4. Want to Communicate Better?
If you find yourself fumbling for words and unable to get your point across, you may suffer from sleep deprivation. According to a study on sleep deprivation and communication published on the Nature website, “research suggesting that verbal perception and linguistic comprehension are decreased after sleep loss.”
Maybe your spouse not understanding you has more to do with your lack of sleep than his or her inability to listen. Save those serious discussions for when both of you have had a good night’s sleep.
For Proper Academic Self-Care, Guard Against Sleep Deprivation
Without a doubt, we need sleep to function properly. If you want to bring your A-game to work, school, or relationships, consider evaluating your sleep habits and making necessary changes. Allow yourself time each night for 4-6 sleep cycles.
A sleep cycle consists of three non-REM stages and one REM stage and can take anywhere from 80-120 minutes to complete. The first three stages of the cycle include a wakeful stage, a deeper sleep stage, and a deep sleep stage. Next, our REM cycle occurs. During this stage, our muscles freeze up so we can’t react physically to dreams we experience. We experience these cycles all night long, but often for different amounts of time.
Without each stage in the cycle, and an adequate number of cycles, we’ll find ourselves feeling sleep deprived the following day. This explains why new parents feel sleep deprived even if they got a cumulative eight hours of sleep during the night, but their newborn woke them up during different stages.
While parents of newborns can’t do much about their feelings of sleep deprivation, the rest of us can form habits to help ourselves get better sleep. Our academic self-care depends on it!Feeling forgetful, foggy, indecisive, or distracted? Maybe you need more sleep. #sleepdeprivation #selfcare #academicselfcare Click To Tweet