We've all faced the dilemma at some point: Should I keep studying (or working) and delay bedtime, or log out and hit the hay?
In college, I regularly stayed up until midnight or 1 a.m. studying and writing lab reports, even though my alarm went off at 5 a.m. each morning for rowing practice. It was just so tempting to stay up late when there was so much work to be done—so much work, all the time.
But while running on four or five hours of sleep in college let me finish a lot of work, I was sleepy. I nodded off during class, ate more food to keep myself awake, and became more susceptible to catching colds. I found it harder to study because I hadn’t paid attention in class. I even found myself sometimes being short-tempered toward my friends.
Today, after working in a sleep research laboratory for the past four years and becoming intimately acquainted with what the research says about sleep curtailment, I am much more inclined to shut the books, close my laptop, and crawl into bed, because the fact is that there are literally no benefits—none, zip, zero, nada—to depriving oneself of necessary sleep.
What does sleep deprivation do to your body?
What does sleep deprivation do to your brain?
How can you tell if you're getting enough sleep?
You can take a test called the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. If you add your total score (out of a maximum of 24 points), you can get a sense of how sleepy you are, subjectively. (The average person scores around four or five.) There’s also an objective test of daytime sleepiness in which an individual has several 20-minute nap opportunities throughout the day. The lower the sleep latency, the greater the “sleep need.”
But sometimes you don't feel like you could actually fall asleep during the day, and yet it’s still clear you aren’t getting enough sleep. Do you find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning? Feel you need coffee to start your day? Find yourself yawning frequently? Feel sluggish, unmotivated, inattentive, or foggy-headed? Find yourself getting sick more often, or unable to perform as well in the gym? You’re probably running on too little sleep.
You have a test or project due tomorrow, and you're too stressed to fall asleep. What can you do?
So…should you stay up an extra hour working, or give yourself an extra hour of sleep?
I don’t think this question needs answering! Physical effects aside, sleep loss makes it difficult to learn, pay attention, and memorize information. Working late at night, to a degree, becomes counterproductive; delaying sleep cuts into our precious slow-wave sleep stage, which is associated with reduced cortisol levels and memory consolidation.
You get one body and one brain in life. Give them enough sleep—it’s the single best thing you can do to perform and feel your best every day.