Stanford Sleep and Dreams Monday, 2024-05-27, 5:11 AM
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Sweet dreams?

Essential information your bio teacher never mentioned

Written by Raquel Goya

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    I am not a “techie”. That is what people majoring in math or science fields are called here at Stanford, my new home away from my actual home in Phoenix. I admit, while I excelled in math and science courses in high school, I never enjoyed their content as much as my other classes. Needless to say, when it came time to fulfill a natural science requirement, I was less than thrilled. I opted for the popular “Sleep and Dreams” course, which I heard was less “technical” than most other natural science courses and very entertaining. You even get bonus points for falling asleep in class! Besides, I realized I barely knew anything about the subject, and as it turns out, I was not alone. In today’s fast paced society it is easy not to consider sleep a priority. Health and biology classes rarely cover sleep. School, sports, homework, and social activities often cut sleep short. I believe the information I am learning in this class is so important, I have a responsibility to share some of it with you.

    One of the first things we learned in class is that a “triumvate of health” including nutrition, physical fitness, and sleep is essential to leading a healthy life. Students, including myself, are often unaware of the third aspect. According to my professor, sleep researcher William Dement, in his book The Stanford Sleep Book, this component is so important because “not only does sleep consume a third of human existence, but unhealthy sleep can also severely impair the other two-thirds”. Students typically carry a large sleep debt as a result of not getting enough sleep, which presents threats to our daily lives. I was shocked to learn that all the sleep we lose staying up late, cramming for tests, talking with friends, or watching Gossip Girl must be made up to completely cancel our sleep debt and attain optimal alertness. Optimal alertness means fulfilling your sleep need. For most high school and college students, this will be between nine and ten hours, and results of obtaining an optimal amount of sleep include improved energy and motivation and fewer errors. Furthermore, major danger exists in carrying large sleep debts. According to Dr. Dement, impaired alertness, “in addition to being a serious threat to well-being and safety is also a key symptom of pathology-particularly sleep disorders.”

    Napping is a perfect way to reduce your sleep debt, and the benefits are legitimate. Napping is not just for the three-year-old you babysit. A one hour nap has the potential to improve alertness for ten hours! Try napping during the early afternoon, when you feel less alert. Don’t delay; sleep as soon as you feel tired –before your physiological sleep tendency reverses. You’ll feel less drowsy, have better reaction times, and feel more awake afterward.

    I mentioned the class was entertaining, and this year proves to be no different. We once had a student, re-enacting another student’s dream, run into class covered in peanut butter! As ridiculous as this incident was, I now find that the fact that the general population is so unaware about the importance of sleep even more ridiculous. For instance, many people think a big lunch or a boring class can make them feel tired. In reality, the only reason anyone feels tired during the day is because they did not get enough sleep. I was surprised to hear that sleep loss is cumulative, so one 14-hour night of sleep on a Saturday probably is not enough to make up for all the sleep you have been missing out on. Another common misconception: It is impossible to get too much sleep! Embrace your need to sleep and know this information, continually re-emphasized by Dr. Dement in lecture: “The onset of drowsiness is the moment you notice that you’re making a conscious effort to keep your eyes open.” Finally, I advise remembering the following-our class motto, well known throughout the Stanford campus: Drowsiness is red alert! Share it with friends and family. It could actually save lives.


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