by Kaitlyn Lew '20
Are you frantically staying up late for that all-important CS project, Orgo midterm, or English paper? You may not be the only student on campus pulling an all-nighter. However, humans are actually the only animals that willingly prolong sleep, which can have detrimental long-lasting effects . Teenagers need about 8-10 hours of sleep every night, but many know that this is unrealistic for a typical college student. According to a recent national poll, 87 percent of U.S. high school and college students get far fewer hours than the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep each night . This self-imposed sleep deprivation causes an increase in appetite due to lower levels of leptin, an appetite-regulating hormone. Additionally, lack of sleep can affect one’s mood, attention, alertness, and memory consolidation. So how can we mitigate such sleep deprivation effects?
On the day after that all-nighter, the bed is calling for you to take a nap. Should you do it? Contrary to society’s stigma that napping correlates to laziness, studies show that naps may actually be quite beneficial. Sleep is important for the brain to consolidate one’s memories and experiences, and short naps can increase alertness and efficiency . The ideal amount of time to nap is thought to be between ten and twenty minutes, which ensures that the individual will awake refreshed and alert . Following a short nap, the individual may have increased motor skills and attention, which also promotes declarative memory consolidation.
During the day, the optimal time to nap is from around 1:00-3:00 or right after lunch, when one’s blood-sugar levels dramatically dip . To restore this energy deficiency, a nap can do the trick. This may be a particularly good time to nap for those night owls, too.
However, the time for an ideal nap has a short window. Any longer than twenty minutes, and one will experience “sleep inertia”, or increased grogginess and drowsiness . When waking up from sleep, the individual is disrupting a certain part of the sleep cycle. Each timing of the sleep cycle differs from person to person because each individual has their own individual biological clock and sleep-awake homeostasis. After thirty minutes, the body enters the sleep cycle of deep sleep when the brain creates large, slow delta waves. The body becomes less responsive to the environmental stimuli, making it harder to wake up. This is when sleep walking and talking typically occur. However, awaking someone during delta sleep can cause disorientation and sluggishness.
Fortunately, after ninety minutes, the body concludes the sleep cycle with Rapid Eye Movement (REM), also known as the paradoxical "active sleep". The brain produces alpha waves, which are low-amplitude and high-frequency waves similar to those when the brain is awake and active . As the name implies, REM sleep is known for its characteristic eye movements as well as strengthening connections between neurons. Therefore, ninety minutes can be an ideal nap time. According to Sara Mednick, PhD, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, "What's amazing is that in a 90-minute nap, you can get the same [learning] benefits as an eight-hour sleep period” .
Such evidence promoting naps has affected workplaces and schools. In 2003, a company called MetroNaps introduced “Energy Pods” designed for exhausted employees in the workplace . Energy Pods are designed to have a molded back to elevate the legs and relax the lower back as well as a spherical privacy visor to remain undisturbed by external stimuli . In addition, the product comes a console for personalized nap duration and programmed alarms, including lights, sound, and vibration. Installing nap rooms with Energy Pods has been revolutionizing the phrase “sleeping on the job”. Midday naps can increase workplace productivity. Companies such as Google, Zappos, and Ben & Jerry’s are incorporating nap rooms for their sleep-deprived employees . Even many colleges, such as the University of Miami, Washington State University, and Wesleyan, have started installing nap rooms for sleep-deprived college students .
Napping may be beneficial for memory consolidation in the hippocampus, increasing one’s energy levels, and producing better moods. Naturally, there are downsides as well. Long naps may cause nighttime insomnia and disrupt one’s normal sleeping patterns. In the end, even with significant evidence corroborating the benefits of ephemeral naps, sometimes the only true cure for sleep deprivation is a good night’s sleep.
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