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Doing the Impossible: Embracing healthier sleeping habits

Article by: Albert L. Dela Cruz Jr. and Ysa Andre A. Mendoza

Graphics by: Albert Dylan D. David

Mapúans pride themselves on doing the impossible. Keeping up with the notorious quarterm system, burning the midnight oil, pulling all-nighters, and surviving on just caffeine and sheer determination have become part of the Mapúan culture. It might seem that sacrificing sleep hours for work is reasonable, but the scientific data beg to differ. In observance of Sleep Awareness Week, The New Builder puts the spotlight on one of the things that Mapúans tend to not do, especially as the end of the term approaches.

Shut-eyed to productivity

It has been widely accepted in the scientific community for quite some time now that everyone needs sleep. This means hitting the hay for at least seven hours every night as most young adults aged 18 to 25 need seven to nine hours of sleep. On the contrary, the importance of sleep has been swept under the bed by Mapúans in exchange for extra working hours. This “productivity culture” creates a mirage of getting things done in the full sense of the term.

However, a technical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which was released in 2014, states that chronic sleep loss and the associated daytime impairments and sleepiness are serious threats to the academic success, health, and safety of adolescents and young adults. Scrambling for time to do academic work is an experience most Mapúans can relate to as they sacrifice sleep and plan to catch up on it on the weekends. However, this might not be the wisest decision as discussed by Dr. Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California.

In an interview with the Huberman Lab, Dr. Walker explained that lost sleep cannot be compensated because of the circadian forces that govern sleep. Sleep can be separated into two main stages, namely Non-Rapid Eye Movement Slow Wave (Deep Non-REM) Sleep, and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep. The first half, or the Deep Non-REM Sleep is associated with motor learning. Meanwhile, the second half, or the REM sleep, is identified with the unpairing of the emotional load of day-to-day experiences. As such, skipping the first half of the sleep cycle will result in lackluster physical well-being while skipping the second half will lead to an unbalanced emotional state of mind.

Furthermore, the circadian rhythm of the human body is shaped and affected by daily and nightly rituals. Forming a bedtime routine wherein one can wind down and sleep at the same time consistently each night is a key factor in having good sleep hygiene.

Sleep is not like a TV show wherein binge-watchers can pause, rewind, or fast-forward to catch up on missed episodes. Rather, it is much more like a nightly live show. Once they miss some parts of it, they need to see the full act in time the following evenings to get in-synched again. Simply said, getting a whole day of sleep on the weekends will not compensate for the sleepless nights during the weekdays.

Waking up

Sleep is intrinsically connected to one’s well-being. Sleep deprivation, whether chronic or acute, can lead to a lot of problems — both mental and physical. The process of sleep is connected to the regulation of multiple bodily functions, like blood pressure, blood sugar, growth hormone, and many more. An article published in the Official Journal of the German Physiological Society states that “sleep and the circadian system exert a strong regulatory influence on immune functions.” Without proper sleep, there is an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, hormone imbalance, and immunodeficiency.

As for its effects on mental health, sleep deprivation causes cognitive impairments and a poorer mood. Following brain plasticity theory, the brain needs sleep to grow, reorganize, restructure, and make neural connections. Without this upkeep, a person’s learning, memory, reaction time, concentration, problem-solving, and decision-making are negatively affected. Thus, lack of sleep only ever affects exam scores and learning abilities negatively.

Sleep is an essential function, and being deprived of it interferes with the natural processes and misses the benefits that a good night’s rest has. Proper shut-eye keeps the effects of sleep deprivation at bay and provides numerous health benefits contrasting them.

Flipping the switch

As laid out, the scientific data shows nightmares when it comes to sleep deprivation, but there are habits and tools that can be considered to clean up a messy sleep hygiene.

One of which is the right time to drink caffeine, which promotes wakefulness either during the day or at night, but as most caffeine-dependent people observe, there is the crash felt in the afternoons. This is because its effects are only consistent for about five to six hours. Dr. Matthew Walker reminds that when it comes to caffeine “… the dose and timing makes the poison.” He adds that intaking caffeine at the right time dictates its utility. Thus, simply adjusting caffeine intake can affect the wakefulness felt throughout the day and at night. Hence, it is best to avoid caffeinated drinks before going to bed.

Another tool to use is light therapy that is a well-established, scientifically-backed health program in treating depression and circadian sleep disorders, highlighting the influence of the sun as the most powerful light source. Experts advise everyone to get sunlight during the first minutes of regular waking time not only for Vitamin D, but for its benefits to sleep health and wakefulness. The benefits of getting “sun-kissed” in the mornings is not only for the gram, but also for overall health and sleep wellness.

Before bed, delegate some time to wind down. This would include relaxing, staying device-free, and bedtime rituals like brushing your teeth. When it is time to end the day, having warm hands and feet, a comfortable bed and pillows, and no nearby disturbances can lead to sound sleep. Avoid non-sleeping activities like watching television while in bed, as this makes the brain no longer associate it with sleeping.

If you are unable to sleep within 20 to 30 minutes of getting to bed, the NSF recommends that you simply sit in a darkened room doing things like tasks or watching TV, then going back to bed when you feel tired. On the other hand, when it comes to fixing an improper sleep schedule, the NSF suggests a gradual change of one to two hours per day.

Proper sleep hygiene should be practiced not only to avoid the negative effects of sleep deprivation, but also to stay healthy and in peak condition. While some of these practices seem to be common sense, a busy schedule and the current world tend to make them take a back seat in the people’s minds, neglected and forgotten, especially by the red and gold community.

“Sleep is for the weak” is a constant theme in Mapúan culture, but sacrificing sleep comes at a cost. Granted that most Mapúans are faced with a bed full of academic tasks, it seems over the top to try and perfect their sleep health, yet the scientific literature shows that the habitual skipping of sleep, and invariable sleeping schedule can lead to more harm than good. Improving sleep encompasses different aspects of well-being and even though it seems impossible to improve sleep hygiene, Mapúans must take pride in doing the impossible.

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