In Defense of Sleep

When I started attending this intro to psychology class, I’m not sure exactly what I expected. Maybe just a series of classes focused on different studies about why people behave the way they behave. While we’ve touched on that some during these first few weeks, we’ve spent much more time on something I didn’t think for a moment we’d discuss. (Obviously due to my own ignorance)

The brain.

We’ve talked about what parts of the brain affect what kinds of behavior. How the brain is organized. How the structures in it form. And today, we learned all about how it’s affected by sleep.

Sleep is something I often take for granted. Yes, there are times when I have trouble falling asleep or wake up too early in the morning, and when I’m going through those times, I definitely notice the lack of sleep and wish I could change things. But it turns out studies have shown sleep is important for much more than just not feeling tired and grumpy all the time.

Getting just 4 hours of sleep a night makes us learn more slowly and react sluggishly, but it also does more extreme things. It weakens our immune system and makes us more vulnerable to colds. It increases the odds of anxiety and depression. Puts us at higher risk of diabetes. Makes our memory worse, increases our blood pressure, affects our body’s ability to regulate insulin (making us more likely to become diabetic), makes us feel hungrier, and affects our balance.

And despite all these findings, we still somehow persist in this cultural attitude that sleep is a luxury. Something we might think is nice to have, but which we don’t really need if we’re too busy for it. People will brag about how little sleep they get. We have our children start school at an ungodly hour so that they have more time for sports in the afternoons. I suppose I shouldn’t say “we,” since I can’t speak for you, but I certainly know that *I* am often bad at treating my sleep like something I should value.

I do think I’m getting better at it. Right now, I typically go to sleep each night around 11pm. I wake up each morning at 6:30, which means I’m getting 7.5 hours of sleep. That’s generally in the range of how much sleep I should be getting, though anecdotally, I think I function better on about 8.5 per night, so it would probably be worth it for me to make a better effort at going to bed around 10pm instead of 11.

How about you? How much sleep do you get each night, and in light of all this information about the bad effects of sleep deprivation, how likely are you to change that?

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