Eat, school, sleep deprivation-repeat

Posted: March 16, 2022

Recently, I purchased an alarm clock that wakes me up using light instead of noise. It increases the amount of light it shines over a 30 minute period ending during my set wake up time. After that, it beeps anyway just in case.

The idea is that I’ll wake up the natural way of the body responding to light instead of how I normally have to arise in this God forsaken land where the sun rises after I am already at school.

The box of this product claims it will make me more energetic throughout the day. I’m not really sure if it was worth it, as so far the beeping function is what always ends up waking me anyhow.

The average human will spend about one third of their life asleep and it is the time that the mind is most active. During sleep, the mind and body are building neural pathways, forming short term memories into long term ones, strengthening the immune system, rebuilding muscles, building bones, restoring energy and even more.

The way someone approaches sleep can define the rest of their life.

“Sleep is the process by which the brain stays healthy,” said Roxane Prichard, a neuroscience professor at the college of St. Thomas. 

“Sleep allows for network changes in the brain that wouldn’t be possible otherwise, so it’s keeping us alive and keeping our brains sort of finely tuned for whatever challenge happens that day, month, or year.”

The Stages of Sleep

As the body sleeps, it follows a four stage cycle. Beginning with the lightest sleep of the night at stage 1, the body progresses into increasingly deeper sleep with a total of four stages. Each of these cycles last about 70-90 minutes, repeating after stage 4 and happens multiple times in a night.

“The stages of sleep are different psychological processes that can be described during sleep,” said Roxanne Prichard, “You have light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement sleep”

The first stage of sleep is not what most people would consider sleeping. It is easily interrupted and when it is, the sleeper normally doesn’t even notice they entered it. It lasts only 2-5 minutes and is more of a transitionary period between wakefulness and sleep.  

In the second stage, the body is properly asleep. At this point the body’s heart rate and temperature are dropping. The main action of sleep isn’t quite occurring yet, but the body is getting there. This stage lasts about 25 minutes.

The third stage is the deepest part of sleep. Breathing and heart rate are at their lowest point. During this stage the body repairs and regrows tissues, strengthens the immune system, builds bones and restores its energy. It is very difficult for this stage to be interrupted, but when it is it can take the sleeper a total of 30 minutes to properly wake up.

The fourth stage is sometimes not included as a stage of sleep. It’s called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep after how the eyes move under the eyelids during it. During this stage the mind dreams the most and breathing becomes more irregular and erratic. The mind is the most active during it and the brain is turning short term memories into long term ones. It will last ten minutes on the first cycle.

After REM, the cycle restarts and returns to stage 1. As the cycle repeats, the body spends less time in stage 3 and more time in stage 2 and REM sleep. By the last cycle, the body can spend as much as 90 minutes in REM sleep and practically no time in stage 3.

The stages of sleep are why it is recommended to only ever nap for 30 minutes at a time. Past that the body will begin to enter deeper sleep, and the body will just be more tired when waking from the cycle being interrupted. If things run their natural course, then the body will only wake up during stage 1 of sleep.

This is the principle that the previously mentioned light alarm clock works on. By slowly increasing light over a 30 minute period it attempts to wake the user during the natural stage 1, as opposed to normal alarm clocks that run a high risk of interrupting one of the deeper stages.

“Wake up naturally.” said Roxanne Prichard, “I don’t recommend using an alarm clock. Because if you are using an alarm clock you are not getting enough sleep.”

Sleep Deprivation

The CDC considers Sleep Deprivation a national epidemic. Four National Surveys conducted between 2007 and 2013 say that one in every three adults do not get the recommended seven hours of sleep a night. 

Among highschoolers this number rises to seven out of ten who are not getting their recommended eight hours of sleep. A survey taken recently in Minnehaha found among a total of 173 responses that six out of every ten students reported that they do not feel they get enough sleep.

In other words, it is easier to count the number of teenagers who are not sleep deprived than those who are. Sleep deprivation has become an American High School experience.

“Sleep deprivation shows up in pretty much every organ system you have,” said Prichard. “You can go with a reduced amount of sleep, but your body interprets that as a stressor so it compensates by sort of cheating your other systems out of the energy and nutrients that they deserve… your cravings for food change, it’s harder to build protein to build muscles, you’re slower, and you have a more negative psychological view on things.”

A good night’s sleep increases the body’s ability to learn. Sleep deprivation, by contrast, hinders the body’s ability to make decisions, solve problems, control emotions and behavior, and deal with change. It has also been associated with depression, suicide, and risk taking behavior. A study from UC Berkeley even suggests that sleep deprivation even makes people less sociable.

“If a kid puts his head down and within five minutes he is snoring then he’s probably sleep deprived and I have let kids sleep in Learning Lab,” said Elaine Ekstedt, Minnehaha’s learning specialist.”Once I had a parent tell me ‘yeah my son was really tired and he fell asleep in your class. He had called me and told me he wanted me to pick him up but because you let him sleep he was able to finish his day.'”

The physical effects are similarly disastrous. Sleep deprivation causes an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, kidney disease, and high blood pressure. It also weakens the immune system, harms healthy development, and deprives the body of when it repairs muscles. Even just 1-2 hours of lost sleep per night can lead to deficiency.

Lack of sleep can also cause microsleeps, a process where someone falls asleep for moments throughout the day without even realizing it. Microsleeps cause people to lose awareness at random intervals. This can cause someone to miss a lecture, or cause a tragic accident. Studies show that drowsiness can be even more dangerous than being drunk while driving, and some famous tragic incidents, such as the Chernobyl plant meltdown and the Challenger shuttle explosion, were indirectly or directly caused by a lack of sleep.

“Sleep is required for life.” said Prichard. “It’s like water, food, and air. You need it to live.”

How to sleep better

The body falls asleep through a mechanism called the circadian rhythm, a 24 hour clock that tells the body when to do what. For sleep, this is done through two different chemicals.

The first, adenosine, is created as long as the body is awake and is broken down while the body is asleep. It is what signals the body to shift toward sleep. Stimulants like caffeine work by inhibiting adenosine. 

The second, melatonin, is produced according to how dark it is and peaks during the evening suggesting it is related to falling asleep. 

“Pay attention to when your body wants to go to sleep,’ said Prichard. “There are signs when your body wants to go to sleep: your eyes feel heavy, you’re cold, you’ll have a greater sense of sluggishness, and if you have a good circadian rhythm that should happen about the same time everyday.”

One of the main things that interferes with falling asleep is a misaligned circadian rhythm. Keeping a consistent bedtime, even on the weekends, can be immensely helpful in falling asleep at the right time.

In addition, it is recommended to avoid a digital screen an hour before going to bed. A similar principle applies to what someone is doing before going to sleep.

“It’s hard to go directly from something really exciting to sleep.” said Prichard. “For instance, You need to have a transition period between watching a fun, addictive show and going to sleep… you have to slow down your brain and relax.” 

This can be a warm bath, mediation, journaling, reading a relaxing book or anything of that nature. Journaling and meditation can also be helpful in dealing with stress. An hour before bed set aside for this purpose can be very helpful. It is also important to avoid large meals about 2-3 hours before bedtime.

Other things such as 30 minutes of light exercise earlier in the day can also help with falling asleep. It’s important to avoid nicotine or caffeine for at least eight hours before falling asleep. Keeping a cool, optimally between 60 and 67 degrees, and dark bedroom is also important. 

The body wakes up in the morning through the use of a different chemical called cortisol which is conversely released by sunlight and exercise. Going for a walk outside can help start the day. Not using an alarm clock, if possible, also helps, as that means the body isn’t being abruptly interrupted while sleeping.

“Wake up naturally.” said Prichard, “I don’t recommend using an alarm clock. Because if you are using an alarm clock you are not getting enough sleep.”

With the importance of sleep and the downsides caused by missing it, sleep deprivation may just be one of the most unhealthy commonalities in the United States.

It’s normal to miss sleep, but making an attempt to improve sleeping hygiene may just be invaluable. Perhaps, an alarm clock that works by light instead of noise is a good idea.

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