Sleep deprivation turns students into zombies

By Anjulie Van Sickle

At the end of each semester, the routine is always the same. Finals arrive, and panicked students spend each moment cramming for exams. Sleep is an afterthought.

They will do anything to stay awake. The Starbucks and Red Bulls start flowing and continue past sunrise. All-nighters are considered a normal part of college life.

However, the sleepless nights turn students into lidless zombies, walking around in a daze, staring straight ahead. When it’s time to take their exam, things start to blur and they can’t concentrate. Their bodies are weak and their heads start to pound from the endless, caffeine-filled night.

They stumble through the rest of their day in a glazed stupor, finally crashing when they get home.

College students have a lot on their plates, often juggling school, family responsibilities and work. They tend to place little importance on getting an adequate amount of sleep to recharge.

An American College Health Association study found that college students often feel tired, sluggish or sleepy during the week. Of those students surveyed, 45 percent felt fatigued for more than half the week. An additional 35 percent felt tired 2-3 days per week.

“We have to get sleep,” said Jeff Quan, the campus’ licensed professional counselor. “More importantly, we need rest. This means when we wake up from sleep, we should feel refreshed, like we are ready to face the new challenges. If we wake up exhausted or just dreading the day, then we’re not getting enough rest.”

With finals fast-approaching and research papers and end-of-semester projects due, many students are already exhausted. Psychology professor Marti Weaver said pulling all-nighters can harm students’ grades more than it helps.

“Missing out on that one night of sleep means that you don’t consolidate your memories as well and you’re less likely to remember everything you studied,” Weaver said.

She explained that there are neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, in the brain that are being replenished during sleep. Sleep deprivation causes the levels of serotonin in the body to drop, which, in turn, can cause grogginess, low energy, helplessness and temporary depression.

“If I don’t get enough sleep, I feel lethargic,” liberal arts major Melissa Joyce said. “I don’t have energy and my eyes feel tired. Even after I give it my best, it still takes more energy and I burn it all up. By the end of the day, when I get home from work, I’m not going to want to study [for the next test] because I’m so tired.”

Some students have so much going on in their lives that they have trouble getting sufficient rest throughout the semester.

“On a good day, I get maybe six or seven hours of sleep at most, and on a bad day I get four or five hours,” computer science major Richard Johnson said. “I have two jobs, and I get my kids on the weekends. They keep me pretty busy. Sleep is probably last on my list of priorities when compared to everything else. I feel like I’m working hard and it’ll pay off, and I’ll be able to rest later.”

Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to serious problems in the mind as well as in the body.

“Chronic sleep deprivation is going to lower your test scores because you’re not going over things as well,” Weaver said. “It can affect your immune system. You need sleep to stay healthy. It’s a biological need. You’re also not as attentive when you’re sleep deprived.”

Quan said people develop sleeping patterns, and if they stray from them for a long period of time, they are considered to be chronically sleep deprived. Students can eventually recover from missing out on one night of sleep.

“There are exceptions [to our own sleeping patterns], and our body can adjust to them,” Quan said. “But if we try to make that exception the rule, then that’s when we begin to rebel against ourselves.”

He said that although eight hours is the normal amount of sleep most people need each night, some can function on anywhere from five to 10.

Normal sleeping patterns are determined over long periods of time. Many times they can be determined by whether someone feels refreshed when waking up, Quan said.

Criminal justice major Robert Acosta said a lack of sleep can also affect the learning environment.

“I notice that when I’m in class and I get enough sleep, I’m not really worried about how long class is,” he said. “But when I’m sleep deprived, I’m constantly staring at the clock and not focusing because I’m so ready to leave.”

When sleep is lost, people often turn to caffeine. They think a quick cup of coffee or an energy shot is the answer, but it’s only a temporary fix.

“The caffeine will make you feel more alert, but it’s going to
be temporary, and you will still
be off physiologically and
psychologically,” Weaver said. “You eventually become dependent on it. You find that your body has learned to depend on caffeine just to feel normal.”

Often times, students lose sleep because they are overcommitted and are dealing with a number of personal issues.

“I think it’s very important to get sleep,” freshman Brenda Zuniga said. “If I don’t get enough sleep, I’m not going to concentrate in class. My attention span suffers. The reason I don’t sleep is usually because of stressful things in my personal life.”

Quan advised students to choose their priorities carefully. Sleep should never be at the bottom of the list.

“We all have 24 hours in a day,” he said. “None of us have any more or any less. We can’t make up time. It’s what we choose to do with that time that makes the difference.”

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