Most of us are currently cooped up in our homes, dutifully alleviating the spread of the virus, and if you’re anything like a normal person who has profound struggles with time management and procrastination (please tell me it’s not just me), you may have noticed that your sleep schedule has been insidiously altering itself (I swear it’s out of my control). With classes now being conducted through video conferences, there isn’t a rigid timetable we must follow to get to class on time or complete in-person assignments, since now, especially that it’s necessary, doing these things in the digital landscape is monumentally more convenient. As a result, there might not be the need for some students to adhere to prior sleep schedules - and as a student with teachers who aren’t very punctual themselves for afternoon classes, I understand how difficult it might be to find the motivation to retain any sense of organization in your life. It is, nevertheless, important to remember that sleep isn’t just for rejuvenation or mental health, and although they’re equal parts significant - if not more, as students, it’s also important for us to maintain our capacity for information retention. Sleeping is ineluctably tied to our ability to remember the materials that we absorb in daily life, and in school, this is the primary instrument of success. So, even if one might not have the necessity to have a strong sleep regimen in these times, it might be helpful to at least be aware of what the benefits of an optimized sleep cycle are.
In order of our memory of learned material to consolidate, we must first undergo three processes:
Alex Dimitriu, a licensed medical doctor of psychiatry and sleep, writes that acquisition and recall occur when one is awake, and consolidation occurs during sleep. When we are awake, the external stimuli that our brain is exposed to absorbs information that is liable to memory loss. Sleep, on the other hand, allows for our brain to isolate itself from these external stimuli and reinforce the information that is currently on hand. This strengthens memories of new information and integrates them into our preexisting databases of knowledge. As a result, a good night's sleep is able to reinforce memory retention, concentration, and learning capability for the next day.
But what qualifies as “good" sleep? According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), key indicators of good sleep include:
This means that you shouldn’t use any kind of digital device that emits blue and/or white light, drink alcohol, consume caffeine, eat fatty foods, and exercise before bedtime. Hopefully aside from the alcohol one, the rest may be intimate with the domestic habits one might already have. It’s certainly difficult not to stare vacantly at our devices as we lie in bed waiting for sleep to come, and binging on snacks late at night might also be a habit too close to some hearts to give up. So understandably, this change won’t come immediately - if at all if you’re like me. Perhaps an interesting thing to note, then, is that a full sleep cycle spans over the interval of 90 minutes. In that time, we move through five stages of sleep: four stages of NREM (non-rapid eye movement), and a final state of REM (rapid-eye movement). To spare us the complexity of sleep cycles and the tentative conclusions that our researchers have yet to finalize, the important thing to note is that giving yourself a full sleep cycle can help you exponentially retain memories of materials that you’ve recently learned. If you’re a sleep aberrant like me, however, if might also be in your interest to note that “[r]egardless of when you fall asleep, people tend to experience more NREM sleep in the earlier hours of the night (e.g., 11 p.m. – 3 a.m.) and more REM sleep in the later hours of the night (e.g., 3 a.m. – 7 a.m.). So those after-hours mutants are getting more REM sleep overall than are the early-to-bedders" (Gordon).
In essence, even if some of us no longer may have the need to adhere to stringent logistics in our life, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still utility in it. Aside from the abundant indications of its virtues, a robust sleep schedule is able to establish a sense of order and duty in our lives, which also has very tangible benefits to one’s psyche. A good night’s sleep remains as important as it always was when we were still campus-bound students groaning in the sheepfold of academia.
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