Schreiber Science: Sleep

Aaron Bialer, Copy Editor

Artificial light from the blank Microsoft Word document of my unwritten English essay pierces through the darkness surrounding me.  I stand up and walk out into the kitchen, guided by the digital clocks of my kitchen appliances which tell me that I am refilling my coffee mug at 2:26 a.m.  The next thing I remember is waking up unrefreshed atop my keyboard.  The document begins, “uuuuAYyuuu…

In modern society, life moves fairly quickly. Logically, the first step may be to limit the amount of time spent on non-essential activities during the day.  Illogically, many label sleep a non-essential activity. In actuality, the extra two hours spent studying till the wee hours of the morning may be better spent sleeping.

With new technologies, researchers have been able to accurately analyze sleep’s previously indeterminate functions.

As a substitute for overly excessive studying, sleep solidifies memories, while at the same time weakening neuron connections to conserve energy when recollecting important memories.  Additionally, the brain removes information deemed unimportant and the glymphatic system (named due to its parallel with the lymphatic system and use of glial cells) removes toxins from the inner brain.

In addition to clearing toxins from the brain, sleep boosts the immune system.  Sleep increases white blood cell counts and prompts tissue repair, also increasing the production of certain vital hormones.

One theory, though unable to explain a few situations, suggests that sleep is also used to keep animals safe, as an animal roaming around despite its inability to see in darkness will more likely fall prey to a nocturnal predator.

Even if you are unlikely to be hunted at night, sleep is crucial, especially to the developing teenage mind.  However, it is not only the act of sleeping, but also the quality of sleep, that matters.

First and foremost, sleep should be part of a daily routine.  Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day contributes to more fulfilling sleep by following your developed Circadian rhythm.  Some sleep researchers suggest following a strict bed time routine as well to prepare your body and mind with the activation of certain glands to produce sleep chemicals, such as serotonin and melatonin.

It is also beneficial to avoid artificial light before going to bed.  A pathway leading to the supra-chiasmatic nucleus, a special center in the hypothalamus, is stimulated by retinal exposure to light.  This nucleus sends signals to other parts of the brain, controlling factors that affect drowsiness.

Lastly, avoid alcohol, caffeine or other drugs that may decrease the quality of sleep.

In the end, sleep is often just as, if not more, important than the other activities for which its designated time is used.  It all comes down to building a routine and developing time management strategies.