There’s a basic human process that scientists barely understand. This mysterious daily event seems to hold keys to a person’s heart health, body weight maintenance, mood, and memory. It's sleep.
For decades, scientists have been trying to unravel what the actual purpose of sleep is. Recent research, using modern imaging technology and testing methods, shows that sleep is an incredibly complex process that goes beyond just getting a bit of rest. When you sleep, profound neurological and hormonal changes happen in your body.
And when it comes to learning, sleep isn't just beauty rest. Here are five very good reasons college students need to get their nightly 7-9 hours.
Sleep Stimulates Creative Thinking
First, being well-rested seems to promote creative thinking in problem-solving situations. A 2009 study conducted by German scientists took a group of subjects and taught them to solve math puzzles with a six-step process. Then the group was split: some of the group went to sleep for eight hours, and some stayed awake.
When they were brought back together to solve more of the math puzzles, the group that had slept were more three times more likely to notice a shortcut in the solving process that would allow them to find the answer in two steps rather than six. This result suggests that sleep enhances creative problem-solving abilities.
Sleep Helps With Memory Retention
When you learn something new, whether it's a fact (declarative memory) or a new skill (procedural memory), new connections are made in your brain. MRI scans taken of the brains of sleepers seem to confirm this. Images taken when subjects learn something new show many areas of the brain working to process it.
Taken when performing the new task after sleep, MRI scans show fewer areas being accessed to perform it. Sleep not only helps you store memories—it seems to boost your ability to access them quickly later on. So when faced with complicated new information in your online degree program, make sure you sleep on it.
Sleep Supports Your Immune System
When you're sick, your body produces more white blood cells to fight off infection. Under physical stress, people also produce more white blood cells, a reaction that, over the long-term, weakens the body.
Blood samples taken from sleep-deprived individuals in studies shows that lack of sleep causes the same response. Scientists conclude that prolonged sleep deprivation, like prolonged physical stress, can lead to a breakdown of the immune system and susceptibility to illness. And if there’s one thing you don’t need as an online college student, it’s sick days.
Sleep Supports Decision-Making Abilities
In addition to boosting your ability to think creatively, getting enough sleep seems to help you make better decisions. Researchers at Duke University performed MRI scans on students when well-rested and when sleep-deprived, and asked them to participate in a high-risk, high-reward financial exercise in both states.
They found that the areas of the brain that control rational analysis are less active after sleep deprivation, while the areas that emphasize positive results are more active. So while students who were well-rested took more care analysing their choices in the exercise, students in a sleep-deprived state were more likely to repeatedly make extremely risky choices without considering the consequences of a loss.
Sleep Stabilizes Your Moods
Sleep and mood are intricately linked. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania restricted subjects to less than five hours of sleep a night for a week. On the first day, subjects seemed euphoric, but their mood and performance on a variety of tests declined rapidly after that.
They reported increased anxiety, sadness, and irritability. But after resuming normal sleep for two nights, their mood returned to normal. So if you’ve been a bear to your family after pulling those all-nighters for your online college courses, just let them know you’ll be back to normal after two nights of decent shuteye.
This article is presented by American InterContinental University, a provider of career-focused degree programs. Students can even study on our Virtual Campus at AIU Online. Find out more at http://www.aiuniv.edu.