We’ve all been there.
You procrastinated a bit too long on that paper and now you have one night left to cough up 5,000 words on how the minor characters in Macbeth somehow sparked the First Gulf War.
You picked up a few hours of overtime at the office in an attempt to revive your ailing, on-the-brink-of-collapse bank account balance.
You decided that the Internet was more interesting than usual tonight and have been trawling its depths since you “went to bed,” even though the longest your eyes have closed is to blink in front of the white screen light.
For a lot of people, it’s easy to hold off on sleep and replace it with a variety of stimulants, but, as anyone who’s experienced a caffeine crash or Adderall come-down will tell you, drugs only aid you in fighting off slumber for so long. No option is really as good for you as getting a good night’s rest, and the consequences of not sleeping go well beyond feeling tired and being generally unpleasant—it can actually make you clinically depressed.
According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, “Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.”
If you think that’s an exaggeration, check out this study by researchers at the University of Texas School of Medicine that was published in February: researchers found that students age 11 to 17 suffering from sleep deprivation (meaning six or fewer hours of sleep a night) upped their odds of developing depression symptoms by 25 to 38 percent. And the effect’s not just restricted to kids—a 2007 study from Norway found that adults with insomnia are five times more likely to develop depression than their well-rested peers. All those numbers would be fine if everyone was sleeping properly, but we’re not. Depending on which survey you look at, anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of people in North America are sacrificing their sleep cycles for other things that are seemingly more important.
In a 2009 study of 12 states, the Characteristics Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System found that 43.7 percent of people aged 18 to 25 unintentionally fell asleep during the day in the past month. For a demographic that consists largely of students, this means sacrificing sleep for delayed studies, social gatherings or social networks. The trouble is that the thalamus—located near the centre of the human brain—is responsible not only for sleep regulation, but also for alertness and consciousness in wakeful states. With this knowledge, maybe manic all-night exam studying will hurt more than help.
The average post-secondary student sleep cycle consists of 6 to 6.9 hours of sleep per night, according to a psychology textbook by Jeffrey S. Nevid, Ph.D. Maybe this could be the reason why student mental health has hit crisis levels, evidenced by six Queen’s University students committing suicide in just under a year.
So how much sleep do you need? It varies slightly from person to person, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, adults (18 and over) should try to aim for somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Teens need even more since they’re growing rapidly—somewhere closer to eight-and-a-half to nine-and-a-half hours.
For those already suffering from sleep deprivation-induced depression, there is hope. A clinical trial last year found that 87 percent of participants who got rid of their insomnia through a series of short therapy sessions also saw their depression symptoms disappear—double the success rate of participants who didn’t treat their insomnia.
But, as with most ailments, prevention is the best cure. Remember your bed is for sleeping, not to provide comfort while you satisfy your social-network scrolling habits.
Turn off the computer. The Internet will still be here when you wake up. I promise.