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Discover the Science Behind Shuteye

Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 20:03

image Science behind shuteye, Sleep, illustration Melissa Slimick

Illustration by Melissa Slimick/Orlando Sentinel

The value of getting substantial sleep can never be overestimated, especially for busy students. Homework, meetings, family priorities and other tasks often seem like they take precedence over a good night’s rest, and before-bed texts or email updates can lure weary students from proper slumber.

Bleary eyes and achy muscles are a few of the symptoms of poor sleep, but there are other effects that are less obvious. Lack of adequate, sound sleep can have long-term health consequences.

Even though it may sound counterintuitive, enough sleep is a key to academic success, and more importantly, your body and mind will feel refreshed and ready to take on whatever challenges are ahead of you.

Sleeping Away Sickness

You’re not dreaming—you really will feel an amazing difference in your body when you let it re-energize. In a recent Student Health 101 survey, respondents stated that they feel groggy, sluggish, and have difficulty concentrating when not getting sufficient sleep. Not only will you feel more energetic, but your body will also function better.

A 2012 study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation indicated that “While many sleepers swear they do just fine on three or four hours of shuteye a night, [there is a] dramatic difference in immune response in subjects who slept four hours to six hours, as opposed to those who were tucked in for seven to nine.” Further, the study found that it was the amount of time sleeping that was most important, rather than the quality.

Lack of sleep has a major effect on the regulation of hormones and other physiological processes. The effects aren’t always immediate or obvious, but there’s a lot going on within your body when you deprive it of the sleep it craves.

Dr. Michel Bornemann, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Minneapolis, says, “Chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with a disturbance in endocrine regulation of energy homeostasis.” The endocrine system is responsible for managing your hormones, and according to Bornemann, “Hormonal alterations are associated with increased weight gain.”

The part of your brain that controls such functions, the hypothalamus, needs sleep for regulation and to keep your weight in check. This is partly a physiological process, but when you haven’t gotten much sleep, you’re also more likely to crave foods that will provide a quick shot of energy. These are usually high in fat and calories. Plus, your body can’t fully reap the benefits of regular physical activity if you’re not getting consistent, deep sleep.

Sleep and Mental Health

Sleep deprivation is linked to an increase in cortisol, more commonly known as the body’s “stress hormone.” Stress makes us do things we normally wouldn’t, such as reaching for junk food that’s high in fat and calories (that will further decrease your energy level and lower your mood) and engaging in other unhealthy habits or vices. A little more sleep can put your mind at ease and help you feel better about life.

Pay Attention to Your Body

If you find yourself falling asleep at your desk (c’mon, we’ve all done it), you’re obviously exhausted, but you might not realize how powerful your fatigue really is. Insufficient sleep can make for a severe lack of focus.


As Bornemann explains, “Acute sleep deprivation is often associated with episodes of ‘microsleep,’ or brief, uncontrollable periods of sleep lasting three to six seconds. [They can] intrude upon wake at inopportune times, such as during a lecture.”

The American Automobile Association emphasizes the risks of  drowsy driving, and Bornemann says, “Research studies reveal that the impairment in motor performance after pulling off a sleepless all-nighter is very similar to the impairment experienced when driving while intoxicated with alcohol.”

Make Sleep a Priority

Over 75 percent of respondents to the Student Health 101 survey said that sleeping seven to nine hours a day is necessary to function optimally, and almost 60 percent try to get this amount of sleep.

If you can prioritize what needs to be done immediately and what can wait, you’ll get a bit more sleep, minutes—or even hours—at a time.

Copyright 2013 Student Health 101

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