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All-Nighters: The Student Grade Killer

Tyler McNierney, W&tW Editor

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It is first period, and you see one of your friends hobble over to the vacant seat beside you. Glancing over at his face, you can tell that he had a sleepless night: baggy eyes, a sleepy countenance, and perhaps a clump of hair sticking out like uneven bristles. Sleep deprivation is a common sight at any high school; one could even argue that it is part of the accepted culture. In fact, some students seem to think that it is some sort of a competition to sleep as little as possible. Despite the “eight hours of sleep” mantra repeated by parents and experts, it is apparent that many students at Wilcox are not adhering to this sleeping schedule. Although they may understand the consequences of minimal sleep, they do not take the initiative to fix it.

COURTESY OF: TYLER MCNIERNEY                                                               Students often find whatever time they can at school to sleep.

There is one misconception, or perhaps assumption, that students make about sleep deprivation and its effect on the body: that it will only affect the morning of the next day. This belief, however, is simply not true.

Last month, Johns Hopkins University released a study on sleep deprivation that was based on experiments done on mice.  Dr. Graham Diering, along with his associates at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, conducted this study. In conclusion, Dr. Diering’s team found compelling evidence that suggests that one of the key purposes of sleep is to solidify what was learned during the previous day to prevent the degradation and possible loss of important lessons and memories. “Our findings solidly advance the idea that the mouse and presumably the human brain can only store so much information before it needs to recalibrate,” stated Dr. Diering.

One of the vital breakthroughs in the Johns Hopkins study was the observation and analysis of homeostatic scaling down in sleeping mice, a phenomenon that weakens the strength of synapses, connecting points between brain cells, before they are overloaded with information. In the experiment, Dr. Diering’s team saw that homeostatic scaling down occurs much more in sleeping mice than awake mice, making them the first to record homeostatic scaling down in living animals. Dr. Richard Huganir, the lead author of the study, commented, “[This study] suggests that synapses are restructured throughout the mouse brain every twelve hours or so, which is quite remarkable.”

The important findings of this Johns Hopkins study highlight the adverse effects that sleep deprivation is believed to have on people’s health. One of the most immediate and obvious effects of sleep deprivation is grogginess the next day. According to Wilcox sophomore Jay Feng, “your eyelids get heavy, you get easily tired, you want to sleep, and it’s harder to pay attention in class.”
A lesser known effect of sleep deprivation is a phenomenon known as microsleep. When a person is experiencing microsleep, their eyes are usually open but he or she is not aware of anything in his or her surrounding for a time between a few seconds to two minutes. This potentially dangerous condition tends to occur in fatigued people who attempt to concentrate on monotonous tasks, such as listening to a dull lecture or driving a vehicle. Those who wake up from microsleep are usually oblivious to the fact that they passed out. Mood swings are also common effects of insomnia, and Feng has noticed that friends who do not receive the proper amount of sleep can be more irritable and grumpy than normal.

Brian Chen, a senior at Wilcox, brings up the next important topic when he accurately observes, “many students will get to the debate of ‘should I study or should I sleep?’ ” Health professionals and teachers will always give the same answer: sleep. “People need to understand that getting regular sleep is very important, and that needs to be priority,” affirms Wilcox biology teacher Mr. McQuade. As both Mr. McQuade and the Johns Hopkins study suggest, studying at the expense of sleep will not improve students’ academic performances. As Wilcox senior Brian Chen points out, “ideally, you should do both.”

If sleep is the number one priority, what can be done to properly balance school activities with sleep? Chemistry teacher Ms. Cayabyab suggests that students get started on their homework right after school. Instead of putting things off and letting assignments pile up, she asserts that “students should do it a little bit at a time” and “maximize their use of S.S.R.” Mr. McQuade advises students who are studying the night before a test to “study in short bursts, maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, and then take some time off and do something physical, or take a brain break.”

There are also negative repercussions that come with using devices like TVs, computers, videogame consoles, tablets, and phones before bed. The blue light emitted by screens suppresses the brain’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which confuses the mind into thinking that it is still daytime. Fortunately, some technology companies such as Apple have incorporated “Night Mode” or “Night Shift” into their devices, which adjusts the display of the screen so that it gives off warmer lights instead of blue light. But experts still recommend turning off screens half an hour before hitting the hay.

One may argue that school is not allowing students to get the recommended eight hours of sleep. However, as Ms. Cayabyab points out, “not everybody has a first period, so people who have some issues with sleep deprivation can start with a second period.” Brian Chen says it all comes down to self-discipline; if Wilcox started the school day later, it would not “have that great of an effect because people will take advantage of that intended purpose” and just stay up later. Although neither one advocated for a major change, Ms. Cayabyab thinks that it might be beneficial to students if Wilcox held more seminars and presentations on sleep deprivation and ways to manage school work.
Ultimately, students will have to be self-motivated in order to resist unhealthy sleep habits. Mr. McQuade concludes, “Listen to your body. Your body will tell you when it’s not doing well; if you’re not getting enough sleep, you’ll know.”

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All-Nighters: The Student Grade Killer