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Recent studies have shown that sleep is even more important to performance than was previously thought. Research into the ideal length of nighttime sleep for adults strongly suggests 8 hours per night for optimal performance. Even if you can’t sleep 8 hours consistently a night, there are many things you can do to make sure your body gets the most out of sleep.
REM (the sleep, not the band)
There are four stages of sleep followed by a period of sleep known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM). The sleep cycles goes through the stages as follows: 1-2-3-4-3-2-REM, and then repeats throughout the night.
Stages 3 and 4, also known as deep sleep provide restorative and growth-inducing properties, and play a major role in maintaining our general health.
REM sleep plays a major role in promoting memory retention, organization, as well as new learning and performance. This sounds like a perfect stage of sleep needed by college students. As you sleep longer and longer, the length of REM in the overall cycle increases. This is why getting two 4-hour naps in a 24-period is not the same as getting one continuous rest of 8-hours.
REM sleep takes up approximately only 25% of the night, but it has the most restorative processes that occur. It supports daytime performance and provide energy to the brain and body. It is the time when our brains can process the information that we’ve learned throughout the day and file it away to be remembered and used again.
The Importance of Napping
While REM sleep is crucial to overall performance, so is napping. In her mathematics capstone paper in 2011, Macalester student Mei Sun, ‘11 found that “daytime sleepiness” was correlated to lower GPAs. The data she used was taken from the National College Health Assessment administered to Macalester students in the spring of 2009. A great way to reduce daytime sleepiness is by napping.
The ideal nap lasts between 20-30 minutes and occurs between 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm during the day, specifically after you’ve eaten lunch.
Tips for Sleeping Smart
- Establish a regular wake and sleep schedule: ideally your wake and sleep times should be within an hour of each other every day (i.e. if I wake up at 9 am on Friday for class, I won’t wake up any later than 10AM on Saturday morning). Take small steps to make your sleeping habits more consistent.
- Avoid nicotine altogether and avoid caffeine within several hours of going to sleep.
- Exercise regularly and for optimal impact on sleep, exercise approximately 5 hours before bedtime.
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine: doing this can help signal to your body that it’s time to go to sleep. Turning off screens about a half-hour before bed can be very helpful, but other things like washing your face, listing to calming music, reading or journaling can be good signals as well.
- Whenever sleeping, try to be in a place that is quiet, dark, cool, and comfortable.
Napping is often though of for children, older adults or those who are lazy. In reality, many of history’s most influential and productive individuals were known to nap throughout their lifetime.
- John D. Rockefeller
- Leonardo DaVinci
- Thomas Edison
- Eleanor Roosevelt
For more information: Famous Nappers: Historical Figures Known for Napping
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