A Scientific Outlook on the Importance of Sleep

Due to the current outbreak, everyone’s lifestyle has changed drastically. Especially for students, without the strict schedule of normal school, it is very easy to lose motivation and self-control. This can lead to irregular sleeping times and extreme sleep deprivation due to having to wake up in time the next morning for online classes. In this article, I will be shedding light on the importance of sleep and sharing some tips on how to maintain good sleep hygiene. 

Why We Need to Have Enough Sleep

It has been concluded from countless research papers that teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep per night. However, this often varies from person to person. As a teenager myself, I completely understand that sleeping for more than 8 hours sounds almost impossible for some of us. Nonetheless, I think we should still try to sleep more, because this actually helps us learn better! 

Sleep serves as one of the main ways to consolidate our memory 

Scientists have concluded that sleep plays a critical role in storing memories. This specifically occurs in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and the parietal lobe. Furthermore, the brain makes subtle connections within the clues that we’ve encountered throughout the day to solve  problems and provides new ideas. A famous example is when the Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev saw “a table where all the elements fell into place” in his dream and created the periodic table the next day.  Research also shows that getting sleep after learning improves performance later on, especially for understanding information and problem solving. 

Lack of sleep can lead to multiple health concerns 

The levels of cortisol, a hormone that generates your blood sugar level, metabolism, formation of memories and mostly stress, increases when you do not get enough sleep. As a result, your body’s functions become weaker, and your ability to make short term and long term memories also deteriorates. Memory consolidation occurs when you’re asleep. When you don’t sleep enough, the brain will continue to try to strengthen past memories throughout the day while trying to focus on new information. This can cause you to completely forget or mix up different pieces of information. 

Tips to Improve Sleep Hygiene 

1. Remove digital devices and limit use right before bedtime

Electronics emit blue light that inhibits the amount of melatonin (sleeping chemical) released in your body, which can affect the quality of your sleep. Keeping these devices out of your room at night would be the best option. It is also important to stop using your devices around 30-60 minutes before your bedtime. This helps your brain to wind down and ensures a more rejuvenating sleep. 

2. Complete darkness 

The more light exposure there is in your room, the higher level of melatonin will be repressed. Sleeping in a dark room also means you won’t be able to see, which means fewer distractions, so you can focus on falling asleep. 

3. Keep the bed free of work 

As it is online learning, it can be challenging to get out of bed in the morning, which can lead to attending classes on your bed. However, your brain will start associating your bed with work and stress and as a result, you will enter the “working” state of mind whenever you are in that environment. This will make it harder for you to fall asleep at night, as you can no longer feel relaxed and stress-free when you’re in bed. 

4. Avoid naps during the day

Napping for more than 20 minutes during the day can disturb your sleep cycle, as your brain waves slow down to adjust to the sleeping zone. If it is hard for you to wake up from short naps, it might be best to completely remove them from your daily routine. That way, since you will be more tired at night, you might fall asleep faster and sleep better. 

5. Develop a sleep schedule and stick to it 

It is a common misconception that if you miss a few hours of sleep (or pull some all-nighters) throughout the week, you can just “make up for it” during the weekends. Short term wise, it seems like an effective approach and it could help you “recharge” from time to time. However, this will only confuse your brain more and more in the long run. In order to be able to wake up in the morning and not feel “miserable”, the best way is to get used to waking up and going to bed at the same time everyday. This helps your brain transition into becoming alert in the morning and winding down when it is time to go to sleep at night, which ensures a better quality of sleep. 


Editor’s note: Check out this page for more information about sleep and mental health.