Are you Sleeping?

The Reality of Sleep Deprivation

by la salle duong, kevin macdonald, tawny tsang

We’ve all seen it in lecture: the nodding head; the gaping mouth. As the semester progresses, these actions become less associated with sentiments of awe or concordance and more with sleepiness. This really is quite a shame considering our growing student fees. One of the biggest reasons for gaining a higher education degree is to improve our chances of future success. However, the secret to success is not as lucrative as it seems and can take its shape in a much simpler and immediate form – sleep.

Ben Franklin once said, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” While we are all familiar with this proverb, few of us actually take it seriously. Sleep deprivation is an issue that seriously affects the health, memory performance, and mood of our age group. According to the National Institute of health, over 40 percent of Americans are sleep deprived with college students being most sleep deprived among that population. This sleep deprivation is self-induced whether it be due to the pressure from parents, the stress of being in a highly competitive environment, or the difficulties of balancing grades and a social life.

It seems only a bit too obvious – of course sleep matters. Empirical studies have demonstrated that sleep may be a key regulator of mood, metabolism, immunity function, and memory. But why don’t we do it?

As college students, our grades and achievements often seem to fluctuate with the different types of moods and situations we find ourselves in. Sometime it is family stress, other times it is arguments with friends, or many times it’s the stress from your workload keeping you out of bed at night.

Many are unaware however, just how closely your mood, emotional, performance and ability to read others’ emotion are modified when you are under sleep deprivation conditions.

According to UC Berkeley professor Dr. Matthew Walker and colleagues, the prefrontal lobe of your brain is actively inhibited in communicating with your fear center, or amygdala, when sleep deprived. In turn, you are unable to regulate emotionally driven situations the following day, lacking the feedback loop that has been temporarily severed to your prefrontal cortex. You become all emotion and no logic, acting in ways unlike you and possibly damaging to the situation!

On that note, studies have shown that there are high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide among Asian American and Pacific Islander youth. Some suggest that the tension between adhering to traditional family values and mainstream culture may cause additional stress and anxiety. On top of that, being at a competitive university certainly adds to the stress load.

While there are many ways to cope with stress, one of the easiest seems to be eating.

Although many of us seem to be blessed with fast metabolism, getting enough sleep may actually help ward off unwanted winter pounds. Studies have shown that people who typically sleep 5 hours or less are significantly heavier than those who sleep 7 to 8 hours. People who sleep 4 to 5 hours a night are 50 to 73 percent more likely to be obese than those who sleep 7 to 9 hours. Even people who slept 6 hours a night (a common practice among college students) are 23 percent more likely to be obese.

Inadequate amounts of sleep can also lead to an imbalance of hormones which regulate our appetite and our ability to process glucose. In a study with healthy young males, those who were sleep deprived (receiving only 4 hours of sleep for 2 nights) saw a drop in leptin levels (the hormone which tells us we’re full), and a rise in ghrelin levels (the “eat hormone”). Furthermore, they reported a 24 percent increase in hunger, and it wasn’t salad that they were craving. The subjects saw a 32 percent increase in the intake of carbohydrate rich foods like donuts and pizza. Not only does an increase in ghrelin mean a bigger appetite, it means a decrease in our energy expenditure, which means more weight.

Finally, if weight is not an issue, then your health certainly is. Normally, this is how our metabolism works: after we eat, the pancreas releases insulin, which signals our muscle and fat cells to absorb glucose. This process ensures that our blood glucose remains at a normal level. However, when an individual has insulin-resistant metabolism, higher levels of insulin are needed to accomplish adequate glucose absorption. This can lead not only to dangerous drops in blood sugar, but also progression toward type-2 diabetes.

Are you wondering what all of this has to do with sleep? In a study in which healthy young individuals were sleep deprived (4hrs sleep/night for 5 nights), measurements indicated an alarming 40 percent decrease in glucose tolerance, rates similar to those who are pre-diabetic.

According to the National Diabetes Statistics, Asian Americans are one of the most at-risk ethnic groups to develop type-2, or insulin-resistant, diabetes with an incidence rate of 8 percent for individuals over 20. In addition, for individuals under 20, the incidence rate for developing type-2 diabetes among Asian Americans is over twice that of non-Hispanic Whites (20 per 100,000/year versus 9 per 100,000/year). Studies suggest that genetic influences are a contributor to these statistics for Asian Americans. Despite our youth, we can’t fight genetic predispositions.

Sleep has more to do with health than just regulating metabolism. With the H1N1 craze, a lot of people have become hypersensitive to sanitation and illness prevention. However, the easiest, and surest, way to prevent getting sick is sleeping.
We’ve often had that groggy feeling of being lethargic and stuffy after pulling an all nighter. This congested feeling is similar to the head cold or other common illnesses. Sleep has very important immune functions. Studies have shown that in just one night of 5 hour sleep, our Natural Killer Cell activity drops by 73 percent. That’s something that hand sanitizer or EmergenC can’t account for. In addition, chronically sleeping less than 7 hours a night reduces our body’s ability to build up immune responses. So even if we get the flu shot and become immunized from H1N1, our body won’t be able to build up as strong a defense. which may render the shot useless.

Being a high-risk group for several health issues including depression and diabetes, Asian Americans may be more susceptible to the negative consequences of sleep deprivation. In addition, about 21 percent of Asian Americans lack health insurance compared to the 16 percent of all Americans, which makes it even more imporant to stay healthy especially during flu season.

The cost of not sleeping not only affects our minds and bodies, but also our wallets. Imagine how much you could save by not buying energy drinks, coffee, or snacks to keep you from falling asleep at the desk! Like many things, getting more sleep is much easier said than done. However, with winter break rolling around the corner, there is a great opportunity to catch up with some sleep. It’ll also be a way to treat yourself to some of the respect your body deserves. With midterms and papers, sleep is often put to the bottom of our priority list. Hopefully from this article, you will have learned that sleep is not dispensable or something that should be taken for granted.

Why not try making sleep part of your New Year’s Resolution? There’s nothing to lose – only benefits to gain. With that, sweet dreams.

Tips to falling asleep:
1. Don’t read, watch TV, or work in bed. Associating waking activities with your sleeping space can confuse your body and make it more difficult to use that space for sleeping.
2. Set the stage for sleep. Make your sleeping space as quiet, dark, and pleasant as possible. Clean sheets, room-darkening drapes, and a pair of earplugs will all help to make the room as sleep-conducive as possible.
3. Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day. Your body will become conditioned to follow this schedule, meaning that you will become tired and be able to fall asleep at a predictable time every night.
4. Keep the TV and computer off for 30 to 60 minutes before bed. The light from the screens can trick your body into thinking that it’s still daylight and not time for sleeping. Read, write in a notebook, or listen to soothing music at a quiet volume just before bed.
(adapted from