Promethean News

You Need Sleep

You Need Sleep

By Sarah Vistocco


Stress levels run high as students tirelessly produce term papers, study for hours to prepare for final tests, and try to maintain a social life to relieve the pressure during these last few weeks of school. Now more than ever sleep is important, yet students push themselves to the limit to meet deadlines while often surrendering a good nights sleep. It is not a groundbreaking idea that sleep is important and by depriving yourself of rest, you simply perpetuate a cycle of crankiness and unproductive days, let alone the physical effects that ensue from sleep deprivation. Yet, it may be interesting to understand what else we relinquish when we work until the wee hours of the morning.


A recent article released in National Geographic outlined a study that took place at the University of California at Berkeley that was spearheaded by neuroscientist Matthew Walker. The study exposed subjects to “emotionally provocative pictures,” such as the scene of a bloody accident mixed with those of simple pictures of a kettle on a counter. As their brain patterns were being monitored by an MRI, a segment of the participants were shown the images in the morning and then again at night without sleeping in between, while the other group was shown the images before they slept, and then again in the morning. Those who were allowed to sleep before viewing the images for a second time had less of an emotional reaction to the pictures than those who were not allowed to sleep between viewings.


Overall, the stabilization of our “mental and emotional health” is sustained through sleep, which is especially evident during the REM cycle. The article stated, “MRI scans performed during REM sleep revealed that brain activity fell in the amygdala—the emotion-processing part of the brain—possibly allowing the more rational prefrontal cortex to soften the images' impact.” Although the emotional reaction the participants felt regarding the pictures was not eradicated by sleep, they were better able to handle their reactions because they had had a restful night’s sleep.


Sleep is not a magic cure for all of the day’s stressors, but it is probable that sleep does offer an important respite from the monotony of daily life. If entering REM sleep helped the participants in these studies face the emotional images with a clear mind, one can only assume that the same can be said for term papers, final tests, and avoiding the sleep-deprived, stress infused fight with your roommate. After several hours of studying, sleep is essential not only to recharge your body and mind, but also to encourage clearer thinking and emotional stability.


Although the stressful schedules that lead students to work late into the night can be unavoidable, planning and using the time in your day effectively can improve your overall health. Sleep must become a priority no matter how much work you have. After about 2:00 am everyone thinks he or she is a philosopher, so it is better to set that paper about Simone de Beauvoir aside until you can approach the subject with a reliable mind. You may not wake up with all of the answers, but at least you will not find a mobile upload of yourself on Facebook using your history book as a pillow in the library.