Ailts: Prioritize your sleep schedule and watch your grades and your health improve

With the busy season of midterms winding down, now is the time to get our sleep schedules back on track.

Ellen Ailts

Midterm season is just beginning to wrap up for many, and we’re all a little worse for wear because of it. During busy seasons like midterms and finals, it’s near impossible to not have your sleep schedule disrupted — if you even had one to begin with. With school, extracurricular activities, jobs and attempting a social life, 3-4 hours of sleep and a few all-nighters are par for the course. Sleep deprivation has potential to harm your body and mind in a multitude of serious ways, but this is no surprise. College students are well aware of the effects of sleep deprivation, both through personal experience and constant reminders from our parents and teachers. So why don’t we listen? Even outside of busy seasons, a lot of us aren’t getting enough sleep. Some stats show college students getting around 6-6.9 hours of sleep on average at any time in a semester; while this may be enough for some people, it isn’t for many of us. 

Sleep patterns and grades are inextricably linked. Getting enough sleep is important, but so is the consistency of that sleep. A study focusing on students’ sleep schedules for 30 days showed that those who went to bed and woke up at the same time every day performed the best academically. Using a 0-100 index to calculate sleep regularity, researchers found that students had an increase in .1 in their GPA for every score increase of 10 on the sleep regularity index. The problem with irregular sleep is that melatonin, the sleep/wake hormone, peaks later in the night, which pushes the circadian clock later, too — this can make your body feel like it’s in another time zone.

When your circadian rhythm is disrupted like this, it harms the body physiologically in many ways, with consequences like illness and weight gain. It’s no secret, either, that being deprived of sleep can do a number on your mental health. Besides being already stressed out by a heavy work load, we make it even harder for ourselves to cope by not getting enough sleep.

Millennials and Gen Xers get less sleep on average than older adults, and 29 percent of Millennials and 23 percent of Gen Xers say their lack of sleep exacerbates their stress, and are more likely to report feeling depressed because of stress. More than a third of Millennials say that they don’t get enough sleep because they have too many things to do, compared to 19 percent of Gen Xers and 13 percent of Baby Boomers, according to the American Psychological Association.

In addition to inadequate duration of sleep, many of us also aren’t getting quality sleep (43 percent of Millennials report their sleep quality as fair or poor). Besides being extremely busy, college students are also very attached to their smartphones. Studies have shown that more smartphone use is associated with taking a longer time to fall asleep and worse sleep quality, and artificial light of smartphones further contributes to a disrupted circadian rhythm.

Reprioritization seems to be a key solution. Sleep is necessary for optimally functioning body and mind, both of which are even more important during busy academic seasons. Our body systems fail when we are deprived of sleep, and we can’t ignore our basic biological need for this restorative process. We aren’t machines, and we can’t expect ourselves to function as such. Having a kind of pride in not sleeping because of dedication to work, as many college students seem to have, is unhealthy and unsustainable. 

Put your phone down, set a time limit for your work, listen to your body. We need to learn how to be reasonable and gentle with ourselves, and understand that physical and psychological well-being is more important than a grade.