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Most of us have had the uncomfortable experience of spending a sleepless night at some point in out lives.

This article covers some basics about the importance of sleep, and the effect a lack of sleep can have on our lives, especially the adverse effects on our health and academic achievement.

Sleep is not just a biological need, but also a physiological one. It is necessary for both physical and physiological health, and essential to survival. When we sleep, we exhibit reduced voluntary body movement, and a lack of conscious response to external stimulation. As a state of healing and body growth, sleep has a great impact on the
anabolic/catabolic cycle. Also, scientists believe that sleep is required for successful memory processing. Sleep has many more function beyond these, though some of them are still only speculated upon.

Factors that affect sleep

There are numerous factors that can affect our sleep cycle. Sleepiness is defined as a tendency for a person to fall asleep; it is directly linked with the amount of time since we’ve had our last sleep, and the amount of sleep in that occasion. If we haven’t had enough sleep the last couple of nights, we’ve incurred a sleep debt that we can get rid of only by sleeping. We also feel sleepiness in a certain period of the day (for example, in the early afternoon) because of the human biological clock. That is why we often find it easier to sleep in the early afternoon than in the early evening.

Many people find that staying in night clubs and other crowded and noisy places can mask our sleepiness. But that can be very dangerous because after that we can experience microsleep (our brain shuts off for a couple of seconds) and that can occur while driving or in other situations which requires full attention.

Factors that can cause a lack of sleep

- not having enough time to sleep
- all factors that leads to insomnia
- all kinds of sleep disorders
- depression, worry
- noise
- night work
- traveling across time zones

Effects of sleep deprivation

Insufficient sleep and daytime sleepiness can seriously affect on our everyday life. Mostly it affects our behavior, health, learning, and mood. Sleep deprivation, generally speaking, is the absence of the necessary amount of sleep, or a state of insufficient sleep. This can be caused by certain sleep disorders, or it can occur during a stressful time of your life. Tens of millions of people suffer from sleep deprivation each year.

Generally, insufficient sleep may have the following symptoms:

    * aching muscles;
    * blurred vision;
    * clinical depression;
    * colorblindness;
    * daytime drowsiness and naps;
    * decreased mental activity and concentration;
    * weakened immune system;
    * dizziness;
    * dark circles under the eyes;
    * fainting;
    * general confusion;
    * hallucinations;
    * hand tremors;
    * headache;
    * hyperactivity;
    * hypertension
    * memory lapses or loss;
    * nausea;
    * psychosis;
    * pallor;
    * slowed reaction time;
    * slurred and/or nonsensical speech;
    * yawning;

Diabetes: Sleep deprivation can change the way our body metabolizes glucose which can be one of the factors which may cause diabetes type two.

Effects on growth: People with sleep deprivation have a lower level of cortisol secretion the night after they failed to get enough sleep, which is caused by lack of slow-wave sleep. Sleep deprivation has positive affect on the part of the brain that regulates stress, digestion, the immune system, mood, sex, etc. At the same time, it has negative affects on growth hormones, as well as on growth generally.

Effect on abilities: Certain studies have shown that people with sleep deprivation have lower abilities than people who get enough sleep. What’s more interesting sleep deprivation can affect our body in ways similar to alcoholic intoxication. For example, a person that has been awake for the past 17-18 hours has the same abilities of a person with a blood alcohol level of .05. In addition to affecting motor skills, sleep deprivation creates higher level of stress, anxiety, and depression, which have their own risks to health and abilities.

Behavior: Children suffering from sleep deprivation are at an increased risk of daytime behavioral problems.

Health: There is a strong link between amounts of sleep, increased accident risk, and injuries and physical complaints. Sleep-deprived adolescents are more likely to start using alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. People lacking sleep are usually responsible for automobile crashes caused by a driver falling asleep for a split second. Lack of sleep increases the risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, stroke and many other physical and physiological conditions.

Mood: People without the required amount of sleep report an increased feeling of happiness, and decreased feelings related with depression.

Sleep deprivation as torture

Sleep deprivation is considered to be an effective method of torture. It is used to interrogate prisoners by keeping them awake for several days, and then right after they allowed to go to asleep, they are awakened and questioned. People who undergo this say that the desire for sleep is more powerful than desire for food or water.

Sleep deprivation as treatment for depression

About 60% of patients suffering from depression after sleep deprivation show immediate signs of recovery after getting enough sleep. This relapse can be controlled by a combination of sleep deprivation and anti-depressant medications which suppress REM sleep.

Lack of sleep and school

Lack of sleep is common among students because they have to attend lectures in the early morning, and thus get less sleep than they normally would. An average student gets 7 hours of sleep instead of the desirable 9.2 hours. This lack of sleep makes students less concentrated, and reduces their cognitive abilities. All this leads to decreased academic achievement.

Sleep impact on learning

Quality sleep includes the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase and the Non-Rapid Eye Movement phase; both are required if we want to be able to learn. Sleep directly affects cerebral changes responsible for learning and memory functioning. (Learning could be defined as a way of forming memory.) Also, studies have shown that a person can demonstrate knowledge only when they’ve had more than six hours of sleep. The  brain needs time to arrange new information into the right places, and without this required time, information is not properly encoded into memory circuits.

So why do we need more than six hours, and not five or four? Our sleep cycle has different phases, and for learning and forming memories we need the first, as well as the last phase. The first two hours of sleep is deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep. In this phase memories from short time storage - hippocampus - are transferred to long time storage - into the cortex - and thus become long-term memories. After this phase, memories are transferred and our brain needs approximately two more hours to distribute these memories to different locations and networks. If we stop this process at this phase, our memories will not be preserved properly.

The last two hours of night sleep that we need are spent in the REM phase, the phase when we dream. This is the moment when the brain shuts off connections with the hippocampus and goes over and over stored memories, repeating them until they are learned properly.

It is more than obvious that we need six or more hours of sleep to learn things, and if you don’t have these six necessary hours, all the learning that you may have done during the day becomes useless.

Late bedtimes and their impact on academic achievement

Studies have shown that students who go to bad late and get up late in the morning show poorer academic achievement. It is not easy to explain that, but there are some potential contributing factors: Those students who go to bad late are more likely to miss the morning classes, or if they are present they have trouble concentrating. In most universities the important test are usually held in the mornings, and students who go to bed late are not yet at their best due to their altered individual circadian rhythm characteristics, so they cannot give the best of themselves, and soon become sleepy.

Also, students with such habits maintain irregular sleep-wake schedules because they get up much later on weekends, which can also affect their abilities.
Finally, students with insufficient sleep are less creative, more neurotic, and psychologically maladjusted; all these reasons can make their academic achievement poorer.
In conclusion, we can only repeat that going to bad late is not the main thing that can affect one’s academic achievement, but a connection between academic achievement and healthy sleep cycles is strongly suggested.