Sleep your way to success

A healthy sleep regimen of seven to nine hours is essential for optimal functioning

A healthy sleep regimen of seven to nine hours is essential for optimal functioning

As deadlines for project submissions or exam time loom near, students are known to stay up past their usual bedtimes and force themselves awake earlier than usual. Thus, they end up clocking very few hours of sleep. What they may not realise is that their sleep deprivation may actually jeopardise not only their performance, but also their ability to learn and remember. Not to mention the toll that a sleep deficit takes on physical health and emotional well-being.

In Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams , sleep scientist Matthew Walker advocates a healthy sleep regimen of seven to nine hours for optimal functioning. If you think that a week or two of compromised sleep cannot cause serious issues, Walker reminds us that even a week of reduced sleep can mess with our blood sugar levels so much so that we might be considered “pre-diabetic.” Further, almost all psychiatric problems are associated with disturbed sleep. Your nightly snooze duration also impacts your longevity.

Rest, assured

The one thing you can do to rejuvenate yourself, mentally and physically, at the end of each day is to get around eight hours sleep. As we engage in distinct stages of sleep at different periods of the sleep cycle, the presence of ocular movements differentiates rapid eye movement (REM) sleep from non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM).

Further, REM and NREM sleep are each characterised by recognisable patterns of brain activity. REM sleep reconfigures the “emotional circuits in our brain” and helps us regulate our feelings so that they don’t get out of hand when we are awake and aroused. As REM sleep is also associated with dreaming, this sleep stage is also believed to spark our creativity. NREM sleep, on the other hand, is linked with improved learning and memorising capabilities. The more deep NREM sleep individuals get at night, the greater is their capacity to recall information learned the previous day.

NREM sleep has also been found to boost our memories of motoric routines. So, if you are learning to play a new tennis stroke or a novel piece on the piano, chances are that your performance will improve after a good night’s rest. Walker avers that the adage “practice makes perfect” may be amended as “practice, with sleep , makes perfect.”

Sleep-deprived students rely on copious amount of coffee to force themselves awake. Caffeine has a half-life of five to seven hours. So, if you drink coffee at 4.00 p.m., about 50% of the caffeine will still be in your body at 9.00 pm, which is sufficient to prevent sleep till at least midnight. If you quaff down more cups later in the evening, you are only mitigating the restorative effects of a good night’s sleep.

Siesta time

Though you may associate siestas with idleness, Walker and his colleagues have found that taking a nap in the afternoon aided participants’ ability to memorise facts compared to a control group that did not snooze. So, don’t feel guilty if you catch a 20-minute shut eye in the afternoon.

Walker also emphasises that sleep doesn’t follow the principles of a bank account. If you have a sleep deficit, you cannot make up for it later by depositing more sleep hours into your account. Adults who sleep six hours or less per night don’t realise that their performance, energy and alertness are compromised. When we are sleep-deprived, we are often poor judges of our own capacities or lack thereof. That “sleep is non-negotiable” is one of the main messages of his book.

Sleep influences practically all aspects of our being whether it is social, cognitive, emotional, physical, behavioural or nutritional. So, rest assured, try to get as much of it as you can.

The writer blogs at and her book, Zero Limits: Things Every 20 Something Should Know, will be released by Rupa Publications.

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Printable version | May 27, 2022 9:32:06 pm |