by, Jocelyn Visnov, Staff Writer
Finals week is approaching fast, which means tis’ the season for late night study sessions and loads of caffeine, right? Dr. Matthew Walker, a Ph.D of Neuroscience, advises otherwise. This English scientist is best known for his all-encompassing research on the subject of sleep and sleep disorders. Published in 2017, you can now find Walker’s book, “Why We Sleep,” on the list of New York Times Best Sellers.
This book explains complex physiological processes of sleep and the effects it has on the human body in a way which anyone can understand. Walker organized his findings into four sections of the book; what exactly sleep is, why you need it, why we dream, and societal views on sleep.
Part 1 of Walker’s “Why We Sleep” explains how and why adolescents prefer to remain awake later than adults or children. Walker tells readers that the sleep/wake schedule, known as the circadian rhythm, is shifted forward several hours for teens and young adults. “Asking your teenage son or daughter to go to bed and fall asleep at ten p.m. is the circadian equivalent of asking you, their parent, to go to sleep at seven or eight p.m” writes Walker.
This concept of adolescents getting more and higher quality of sleep at different hours of the day becomes particularly challenging with the on-the-go lifestyle and timely demands placed upon college students. Those 7:45 a.m. lectures can be rough when, according to Walker, our brains are not prepared to function at their best until after 8 o’clock. Our biological clocks have yet to shift backwards to that of fully developed adults. For our student athletes, it’s no wonder you may barely make it out of bed for those five a.m. practices while your coach can do it with ease.
Walker also explains societal practices of relying on caffeine or sleeping pills to regulate one’s sleep cycle, when really, it’s doing just the opposite. “Levels of circulating caffeine peak approximately thirty minutes after oral administration. What is problematic, though, is the persistence of caffeine in your system.”
Another aspect of “Why We Sleep” which may be of interest to college students is Walker’s discourse on sleep as it correlates to academic performance. After several controlled experiments, Walker would advise a good night’s sleep the day before and the day after an important lecture. This is because the sleep you received the night prior is what helps you process new learned information, and the night after is when your brain saves and stores it.
“Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off cold and the flu.” Walker uses this anecdotal blurb as a segway into just how powerful sleep can be for your body. He warns his readers of the long term dangers of not getting enough sleep regularly. The dangers of sleep deprivation are numerous, but as the pandemic rages on, it is important to note that not getting enough sleep has a significant impact on the weakening of your immune system.
Once final exams are over, I highly recommend picking up a copy of “Why We Sleep”. In the meantime, follow Walker’s advice, and get plenty of sleep as you close out the semester. It will keep your body and brain healthy, and even help you perform better on your exams. You can find this stellar quarantine read on Amazon.com for less than $12. Give it to your favorite night owl as a Christmas gift or read a couple pages each night before bed. Allow Matthew Walker to convince you it’s time to turn off the lights, and let the magic of sleep do its work.