• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online

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Sweet Slumber

While laughter may be the best medicine, sleep may be life’s master antidote.

October 16, 2018
 
 

Elizabeth Dunn is a Ph.D. student in Information Science at the University of North Texas. She also works as an administrator and adjunct faculty instructor at Tarleton State University in Stephenville,Texas.

A popular Irish proverb says: A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything. So, while laughter may be the best medicine, sleep may be life’s master antidote.

In our fast-paced, modern society, sleep has long been underappreciated. In fact, sleeplessness is a badge of honor for some of the world’s highest achievers. Recently, however, the importance of sleep is being re-evaluated by science and in popular culture—for good reason. Sleep not only has the ability to boost your immune system and lower your risk of diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and even the common cold, but researchers are now discovering the beneficial effects of sleep on learning. Pulling an all-nighter is something that we’ve all done at one time or another, but it turns out that staying up all night cramming for an exam is actually the least effective way to learn.

I recently read Dr. Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep. I’m not lying when I say that this book changed my life. It also validated my lifelong, relentless need for at least eight hours of shut-eye a night. My mother can tell you that when I was a child I would become a true terror when I was sleepy; my boyfriend probably would say that that is true even today. Even as an adult, nothing is more alluring or delicious than succumbing to a tide of sleepiness.

As grad students, we should have a particular interest in the benefits of slumber, since getting a solid seven to nine hours of sleep can dramatically impact our overall success and well-being. Not convinced? Here are some particularly relevant benefits of sleep for grad students:

Your brain solves problems in your sleep. You know that problem that you’ve been wrestling with or that tough concept that you’ve been trying to learn? Stop fighting with yourself and get some rest. Research shows that your ability to solve complex problems increases after a period of sufficient rest. When you’re faced with a challenging task, the best plan of action is to do what you can, and when it’s time for bed, settle in for a long sleep. Your brain will do the work while you’re taking a well-deserved break, and you’ll awaken with a fresh perspective.

Learning continues for days after the lesson. Sleep is crucial to memory development. Your brain actually continues to process lessons for days after learning. In fact, researchers have noted that learning is impacted for at least three days after an initial lesson. Along with that, learn to celebrate before the lesson, not after: in a study cited in Why We Sleep, students who got two full nights of natural sleep followed by an alcohol-influenced third nights’ sleep, resulted in 40 percent of the newly acquired knowledge being forgotten (pg. 274).

Grabbing a short nap prior to class can actually boost retention. Do you have about an hour before your next class? Sneak away and squeeze in a short nap! Nappers have a real advantage over non-nappers when it comes to learning. In Why We Sleep, Dr. Walker calls the “tired, under-slept brain” a “leaky memory sieve, in no state to receive, absorb, or efficiently retain an education” (pg. 312). Kindergarten wasn’t wrong … grab yourself a short nap and boost your learning by up to 20 percent

Sleep allows us to cope with stress more effectively. Stress isn’t always bad—it’s actually what inspires us to perform and achieve. However, severe or prolonged stress can be detrimental to a person’s health. Studies suggest that rather than just dealing with stress, sleep can help diminish it before it has the opportunity to become harmful. In fact, according to a 2013 report from the American Psychological Association, on average, adults with lower reported stress levels report sleeping more hours a night than adults with higher reported stress levels. Maybe “sleep on it” isn’t the worst advice after all.

Sleep makes us more creative. Would you believe that many renowned artists and musicians created their most legendary works in a dreamlike state? It’s true: artists like Salvador Dali and the poet Edgar Allen Poe, as well as musicians like Keith Richards and Paul McCartney claim to have drawn inspiration from a dream. REM sleep has been tied to these bouts of creative genius. A team of scientists at UC San Diego, for example, found that that participants scored 40 percent better on a creativity test after REM sleep. Creativity is a skill that comes in handy for so many things that we do as graduate students, not only in writing, but also in problem solving.

Graduate students make many sacrifices of their time and resources. There are pressures all around—writing deadlines, financial worries, family and social commitments, journal submissions, to name but a few. However, satisfying these demands should not come at the expense of sleep. It is in our best interests to embrace quality sleep so that we can successfully and healthfully cope with the pressures of our demanding lives.

So this evening, close your laptop, pour yourself a cup of herbal tea, unwind your mind with a book, and allow yourself a full night’s rest. All the benefits of a blissful slumber await.[Image by Pixabay user jameswheeler, and used under a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication.]

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