by Gabrielle Lamontagne
What keeps you up at night? Is it the bright, glowing moon? Loneliness? Insomnia? Upcoming exams, projects, or homework? The one who got away? The one who didn’t get away –nudge, nudge, wink, wink? Facebook or Television? A bird who won’t stop singing loudly right outside your window?
Sleep is a very important part of our natural, biological processes. That includes the functioning of your memory as well as your body. While we sleep our neurons form new connections and our memory and metabolism are literally improved. Our breathing is also deeper, allowing more oxygen to flow to our brains and let them function slightly better while in “sleep” mode than during the day. The more sleep we get at night, the more our natural “batteries” or energy can be restored and rested for the next day. You might think you function just fine after three hours of sleep, at least for most of the day, but that’s only because you are running on adrenaline – a form of back-up generator for our natural, healthy energy levels that is accessed when our brains consider it necessary, consciously or subconsciously. Fifteen minute naps are more useful than an hour long nap because fifteen minutes is a small refresher, but if you sleep for an hour, your body will be fooled into thinking you’re going to sleep for longer and when it is denied that continuous sleep, you feel tired. That’s also part of the danger of waking in the middle of REM/dream-stage/deep sleep, rather than when you’re in a lighter stage of sleep naturally.
Studies have shown that sometimes it is better for the metabolism and for the depth of our sleep to wear very little or have our sleeping environment be cold, because our bodies tend to “overheat” at night – like a computer. It helps our metabolism because the cold environment forces our bodies to use more energy in our sleep, which our neurons set as the “natural” process for using energy and thus increasing our all-the-time metabolism. That’s also part of why it’s so bad to eat just before you go to sleep, especially junk food because it takes more time to process all of those chemicals, carbs, or sugars – therefore slowing our metabolism.
Some strategies for falling asleep when it is difficult include reading, listening to music, counting sheep (or your blessings – whichever you prefer), and meditation. Reading has been scientifically proven to be the most effective method to relax your mind enough to sleep. Screens, such as those of a television, laptop, phone, or iPod are more likely to keep you awake and alert by the bright lighting than to help you sleep, even if you’re listening to calming music. Counting sheep is supposed to work because by focusing on one task you calm the multitasking parts of your brain and also because it’s super boring. Counting your blessings is reassuring and comforting – and if you feel comfortable you’re more likely to fall asleep, am I right? Just think of the difference between your most comfortable set of pajamas and party clothes. Meditation works the same as counting sheep by focusing and calming your mind it’s easier to fall asleep, especially if you close your eyes.
So unless there’s a reason you need to stay awake or something that can’t be fixed with mind-over-matter mentality (like the loud bird scenario), try to get a good night’s sleep as often as possible!
Gabrielle Lamontagne is a sophomore double-majoring in French and business administration. She is currently studying abroad in Dijon, France.