With midterm season upon us, students are cramming as much knowledge into their brains as possible. But with all the studying, many students lose out on valuable sleep. But is it worth it to stay up late, or even pull an all-nighter to study for an exam?
I spoke with students in the Nursing program that have experience from Fanshawe and Western, to find out what their sleep patterns are like. Second-year student, Rebecca Heemskerk, says that she often loses out on sleep to work on her studies. “I will stay up late to finish my homework, and then wake up early to continue finishing it, but I’ll never pull an all-nighter because the next day, I’m useless,” she says. “Past eleven o’clock at night, I’m doing work, but I’m not doing it to the best of my abilities.”
Another second-year Nursing student, Julia St. Pierre, says that her sleep habits have become worse after high school. “In high school, there was a lot less work to do; it was still a fairly heavy workload, but I was able to get more like eight hours of sleep on a regular basis, whereas now, in post-secondary, it’s usually about five or six with the increased workload.”
Now that some students have shown how much they’re sleeping, let’s find out what’s actually best. Research Associate at Western’s Sleep Lab, Dr. Conor Wild, says it’s common knowledge that seven to eight hours of sleep is best for maintaining your physical and physiological health; but that’s not all there is to it.
“We’ve shown that seven to eight hours is also optimal for keeping your cognitive functioning – so your brain functions, your ability to solve problems and to communicate – that’s the optimal amount of sleep as well, to keep your high-level brain functions in good working order,” Wild says.
He says it’s not just too little sleep, it’s also too much sleep. “Another interesting thing that we discovered is that it’s not like you’re just unable to pay attention or unable to focus; it’s not like these low-level things that you might expect if you’re feeling foggy. But it seems like too little or too much sleep on a regular basis, specifically impair your problem-solving abilities, and to a somewhat lesser extent, your verbal and communication skills. What we also found was that people’s ability to remember things and their short-term memory did not seem to be associated with how much they were sleeping on a regular basis.”
But there is a key difference between a general lack of sleep and total sleep deprivation. Dr. Wild says that different kinds of sleep disruption have different effects on your brain. “Total sleep disruption, such as pulling an all-nighter or two all-nighters in a row, will affect your brain differently than getting suboptimal sleep for an extended period of time. If you pull an all-nighter, we know that will drastically affect your ability to focus, pay attention, recall information, and form new memories.”
Missing out on any amount of sleep may not be the best, but there is some good news; getting a good amount of sleep for a couple nights could bring you back up to your optimal performance.