On World Sleep Day; Why Sleep is Important for Students

By: Emmanuel Utibe

It’s the end of the third week, and we are slowly crawling toward the period that defines the UI reality. As we approach tests and exams, UI students will have to renew their vows to books and classes through the study rite of TDB, classes, and daytime reading. The 2023 world’s sleep day was celebrated on the 17th of March. This time around, away from any tests or exams. In commemoration, the following paragraphs will highlight the benefits of sleep to your general health, and to learning.  

What is World Sleep Day?

Like many other things, even sleep needs global awareness. World Sleep Day is a one-day annual event held the Friday before the vernal (March) equinox. It was originally created by a group of healthcare providers in 2008. These groups sought to discuss and spread information on sleep and its importance especially given the current pace of activities and the leaning toward the 24/7 flow. It is hosted by the world sleep Society, a non-profit organization based in the USA, with a global membership across over 80 countries.

The theme for the 2023 World Sleep day is “Sleep is essential for health”. This begs the question: How would one night of affect anything? Is this not just some commercial skit?

How does Sleep Affect your General Health?

“People should think about sleep like they do other important healthy behaviours such as exercise- as something to reflect upon and when appropriate improve so that one can feel better and remain healthier over time” – Lourdes DelRosso( MD, Ph.D.). 

Numerous research has been conducted to ascertain if sleep is something with effect on health or not. Recently completed research revealed that a single day of sleeplessness can cause the brain to age by a year. This was ascertained by comparing Magnetic Resonance Images from different study participants. The study also confirmed that the aging effect can be reversed if a person reverts back to good sleeping habits.

Also, considering that the human produces and releases a certain amount according to a circadian rhythm. That is, these hormones are produced and released in a rhythmic manner according to day and night cycles. For example, cortisol – which is a principal hormone of stress – is released in the morning to prepare the body for the day’s activity. Also, the growth hormone from the pituitary gland is released at the night during sleep. Even sex hormones and stimulating hormones Even Gonadotrophin releasing hormones(GnRH), the hormone from the brain which ultimately goes on to cause the release of the sex hormones like testosterone, estrogen is released in pulses, with more at night and the pulses only get bigger at puberty.  

Sleep deprivation has been shown by different researches, to have an effect on this normal hormonal release either acting through the Hypothalamus-Pituitary axis or the autonomic nervous system. And because of its effect on hormonal release, sleep deprivation, goes on to affect metabolism.

In research, sleep deprivation caused elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone guy, in the evening(which is opposite to the normal where you would expect it to keep falling). This elevated level of cortisol in the evening was shown to among other things, predispose a person to the development of insulin resistance which is a risk factor for obesity and diabetes. 

Sleep and feeding are tied together in animals; sleep also has an effect on the hormones controlling appetite. Sleep loss is associated with an increased appetite to account for the calorific demand of extended wakefulness. Sleep deprivation causes a decrease in the hormone that suppresses appetite (leptin) and an increase in the hormone that increases appetite (ghrelin). When you put this in a context in modern society the rise in the incidence of obesity is therefore linked to chronic sleep loss. Furthermore, sleep loss also affects the respiratory system and the immune system. Sleep, therefore, does not only predisposes one to non-communicable diseases but communicable ones due to its effect on the Immune system. 

Maybe now you can understand why there seem to be more Malaria cases during exam periods. Extended sleep deprivation has both short and long-term effects on the body. So rather than worry about drug abuse or substance addiction alone, you should worry about your sleep. Essentially, good sleep is as important as studying and eating well if you intend to excel as a UI student. 

Specific Health Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep is one of those classed as a primary biological need, and of the various importance of sleep to the whole body, the importance to brain health is one of the most profound and relevant to students. For one, various research has revealed that sleep is very important to cognition, especially in the context of learning and memory. Getting enough hours of high-quality sleep helps to foster attention and concentration – a prerequisite for most learning. The brain uses the period of sleep to consolidate the memory period is used by the brain for the consolidation of memory. 

Sleep loss is seen manifested in problems with processing emotional information. Sleep-deprived people become likely to be moody, have impaired judgment, and make risky choices. Sleep deprivation also causes diminished “peacekeeping”, and affects motors skill, the ability to carry out the instruction, and keep rhythm. The brain also needs sleep to deal with and flush out certain toxic substances that build up in the brain after a day-long work. It is therefore easy to see why sleep deprivation is further implicated in cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. There is also an increased risk of dementia, general cognitive decline, formation of false memories, and even worsen symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Yikes! Now that’s a mouthful. So much has been said about the importance of sleep and the various effects of sleeplessness outlined. By now, you should have known to plan your time and reduce the frequency of your TDB. However, the effects of sleep loss can easily be reversed by getting good-quality sleep. Regardless of the unique circumstances and schedule constraints, you may want to invest time in your sleep as much as you do reading. 

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