The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

With finals just around the corner, I’ve found myself going through the day like a zombie. The heavy bags under my eyes, the relentless yawns, and the loss of motivation are becoming a permanent characteristic of mine. I have even been accused of being “crabby”. Just from those signs alone, any person can tell me that I am sleep deprived.

Sleep deprivation is actually very common among college students. In fact, 73 percent of college students seem to have problems sleeping. I always hear my peers talking about “pulling all nighters” before an assignment is due or being out all weekend. With this in mind, it isn’t very surprising how common sleep deprivation is among college students. Sleep deprivation occurs in college students because of bad sleeping habits, consumption of alcohol or caffeine/energy drinks, use of stimulants, and use of technology before bed. So, why is sleep deprivation a bad thing?

There are many consequences to sleep deprivation. One study found that college students are missing the last two cycles of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. REM sleep occurs every 90-120 minutes and happens about four to five times in a night. It is often called the dreaming period.  Another sign I often see in myself is poor emotion regulation. When I don’t get enough sleep, I find myself getting frustrated or upset for the most miniscule things. Sleep is an emotional regulator. Sleep deprivation has actually been found to worsen moods, increase irritability, lower emotional intelligence, and more. Through neuroimaging of the brain, one study found that sleep deprivation enhanced activity in the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotions).

Interestingly, the way emotions are expressed after sleep deprivation is also affected. For example, researchers have found that that after being sleep-deprived, participants used fewer words specifically, they expressed less positive affect in their speech and more negative affect. Not only that, but their facial expressions seem to be more sad and exhausted. Examples include the signs I described earlier including the bags under my eyes.

Sleep loss is a prevalent issue that seems to affect some of the most important aspects in our everyday lives. So, how can we improve our sleep patterns? According to the National Sleep Foundation, some tips to improve our sleep quality are to stick to a consistent sleep schedule, participating in a relaxing sleep ritual before sleeping, avoiding naps, exercising, avoid heavy meals before sleeping, etc. Just being consistent in these few areas can improve your sleep quality and, therefore, make a big difference in your life. The benefits include better memory, clearer thinking, stronger immunity, better health, and so much more. I often find it hard to get enough sleep with so many items on my daily schedule, but just avoiding heavy meals or the use of technology before bed can make a huge difference.

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Undergraduate research assistant and blogger for the moral communities project.**The opinions and views expressed are my own and do not reflect the official positions of The Moral Communities Project or its funders.

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