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The Big Sleep: Why making time for sleep is so important

By Alex Valeri, 4th-year English major

Throughout my four years at Queen’s, I confess I have seen a lot of bleary-eyed university students stumbling to their morning—or even afternoon–classes, clutching their coffees as if holding on to dear life, and fighting to repress loud, in-your-face yawns. I also confess that I have been one of those students who have valiantly attempted to face the day running on only a few hours of sleep.

Sleep is easy to forget amidst our crazy university schedules. Between writing essays, keeping up with readings, studying for midterms, volunteering with on-campus activities, working a part-time job, and hitting the gym, it’s hard to find time for life’s basic essentials such as eating, showering, and sleeping. But it is becoming more and more recognized that sleep is just too important to skip out on. Sleep does not only contribute to your physical and mental health but it is also a key factor in your academic success.

Here’s a shocking statistic to prove the above claim: Did you know that going 18 hours without sleep results in the same cognitive functioning as if you were legally drunk? (There’s a sign in the Learning Strategies office that says this in case you doubt me!). That means pulling an all-nighter to finish a paper may not turn out to be your best work. It also means that staying up late to study—while it may seem productive—can actually negatively affect your performance on your exam the next day. An recent article in the Huffington Post summarized these research findings: lack of sleep or poor sleeping strongly affected students’ academic success, leading to lower grades and more drop-outs (Klein para. 1). They also compared the negative effects of poor sleep to the effects of using alcohol or marijuana (para. 1).

So how do you make changes in your habits or your schedule to ensure you are getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep every night?

  • Make sleep a part of your schedule: Filling out a weekly schedule? Don’t just schedule your class or homework time but set a bedtime for yourself and try your best to stick to it. Seeing an actual time on your schedule can provide that extra motivation to make sleep a priority.
  • Set a routine: University schedules can get weird. One morning, you may be pulling yourself out of bed for an 8:30 class and the next you’re snoozing until late afternoon with only a night class ahead. A good way to counteract the ups and downs of crazy schedules is to keep a routine with a consistent time to go to sleep and consistent time to wake up. This also gives you more time for your work!
  • Study smarter not harder: Using your time more productively means getting more done in less time so you don’t have to stay awake all hours of the night. Strategies such as the 9-5 work day (doing work between the hours of 9 to 5) and the 50/10 rule (50 minutes of studying with a 10 minute break) ensure you are spending your study time wisely.
  • Find ways to reduce stress: Personally, my maniacal and obsessive over-thinking comes out at night, preventing me from sleeping well. Practicing breathing techniques, doing yoga or exercising, talking to someone, catching up on your favourite show can all help you reduce stress before going to bed.

You can find out more about stress and coping strategies on our website.

As a university student, I too have pulled myself out of bed with the only thought motivating me being that if Frodo and Sam can make it to the top of Mount Doom and destroy the Ring, I can get to early morning class. I truly understand the struggle of finding time to sleep. It sometimes feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day and things like reasonable bed-times get sacrificed. Maybe we need to change our thinking about sleep and make it a priority in our lives. Having a good night’s sleep is productive—it isn’t a waste of time! It’s actually helping you succeed.

Work Cited

Klein, Sarah. “Sleep Problems Equal to Binge Drinking, Marijuana Use In Predicting Poor Academic Performance.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com Inc, 2015. 6 March 2014. Web.

Photo courtesy of Ella Mullins under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.