Got Smarts? Get Sleep.

tired student girl with glasses sleeping on the books in the library
tired student girl with glasses sleeping on the books in the library

There is a plague raging through university student life. It's the college student's problem that has no name. It's what lies behind heightened emotional and physical distress, reduced productivity, and overall lower life satisfaction. Sleep is important. Casual observation reflects this, and science proves this. Yet most people still do not get enough. I, too, have been guilty of self-induced sleep deprivation. There are far too many compelling arguments to ignore our own well being, whether it is the season finale of Downton Abbey, a term paper that is not quite finished, or even the latest refresh of our news feed.

As college students, we represent the perfect breeding ground for anti-sleep propaganda. The "you can do anything" with your life mantra we hear can quickly turn into "you must do everything." A lifestyle without time for sleep seems to be built into our young American dream, long before the white picket fence and 2.5 children kicks in.

"Sleep, study, socialize"; In college, we limit ourselves to two of the three. Yet, there is a great irony here. As we work hard to be more productive, we end up taking away one of the most important contributors to successful performance. Despite popular opinion, cutting out sleep will not give you more time in your day. Here is why:

No sleep means no long-term memory. You'll spend today re-learning material from yesterday. "The difference between short term and long term memory is like the difference between a 16-gig memory stick and the cloud," explains Jo Supernaw of Duke University's Wellness Center. Without enough sleep, your brain runs out of space. It starts throwing out information, rather than storing it in the long-term to make room for the new. According to a clinical study at Johns Hopkins, this could why you're 40 percent less likely to retain information when sleep deprived. Scientists at NYU medical school found that the same neurons that fire when you're learning a specific task are the ones firing when you're in slow-wave sleep.

Sleep is the easiest way to get the most out of your tuition. Recently, a friend of mine calculated the approximate cost per course for a full-time student with an average course load at Duke or another private university with a hefty price tag: $2978-ish. In other words, that ain't cheap. If you're paying for each class, then you want to take away the most knowledge from every single lecture. Education is not an investment if you cannot remember anything you learned.

Productivity seriously declines when you're not rested. Researchers estimated that fatigue led to a decrease in workplace productivity by almost $2000 per worker in 2010. (And that was before inflation!) Sleep deprivation impacts your immune system as an illness would, and it also impairs your body's pain control system. One study found that less sleep meant more random pain. With discomfort and sickness, it is no surprise that our ability to maintain focus is far less than stellar when we are exhausted.

I remember once speaking to a psychologist about his opinion on romantic relationships. He believed that the "I don't have time" excuse was bogus and unfounded. Romantic relationships, he claimed, added time to our life because they enabled us to live every moment more fully. The same goes for sleep. To those who think it is impossible to work more hours in -- I'm going to call your bluff. We all can make time for what matters to us. Sure, 16 hours of the day may become 15 by the time you add in that extra shut-eye, but you make up that "lost" hour in productivity and efficiency. (Two words that should resonate with anyone who feels remotely exhausted at the moment.)