Sleep Deprivation Is No Joke

By: Carolanne Link, UCLA Undergraduate Student

Recently, I had one of those days where I prioritized homework above sleep. I was in my fourth straight hour of chemistry homework when I made myself laugh. How? Well, while doing an extensive calculation, I picked up my cellphone and started typing into that. I only realized my phone was not in fact my calculator when I couldn’t find operations on the keypad. I chuckled, picking up my calculator and spending the next two minutes typing the calculations in, only to realize that I had never turned the calculator on.

At this point my chuckling started to give way to a bit of worry about my inattention. I’m sure some of you are smirking, imagining this scenario and/or commiserating with this tale while remembering something similar you’ve done. It’s a common “college-esque” incident; students joke about all-nighters, late-night cramming, and, in my case, “binge-homeworking.”

But the problem with this is that we caffeine-infused go-getters brush over how our self-induced sleep deprivation affects our long-term learning. Within 48 hours of my homework binge, I couldn’t have told you what half those problems were about, or how I solved them.

When my TA went over some similar examples during my discussion later that week, some of it came rushing back. Mostly, though, it hit me that if I had gotten these problems on a test or quiz, I would have drawn a giant blank – regardless of how well I did on the homework set! After the shock and internal horror faded a bit, I considered the fact that this was probably the topic of many scientific studies.

A quick search yielded a 13-page report on the “Neurocognitive Consequences of Sleep Deprivation.” I found out from this study that there are three types of sleep deprivation: 1) Partial sleep deprivation = less than 7 hours of sleep every 24 hours, 2) Short-term sleep deprivation = no sleep for an extended period less than or equal to 45 hours, and 3) Long-term sleep deprivation = no sleep for more than 45 hours.

What really grabbed my attention was the following: “When all three measures [mood, cognitive performance, and motor functions] are collapsed together, the mean functional level of any sleep-deprived individual is estimated to be comparable to the 9th percentile of non-sleep deprived subjects. Interestingly, mood and cognition were found to be more affected by partial sleep-deprivation than total sleep deprivation.”

In non-academic speak, this basically translates to two things:

1) If you deprive yourself of sleep, you’re likely to be functioning worse than 90% of the people who actually got a full night’s sleep.
2) Consistently not getting a full night’s sleep can be even worse for you than large binges of deprivation!

Therefore, please don’t be like me and all the other college zombies around! Otherwise, you might find yourself mistaking your phone for your calculator too, and perhaps at a more dire moment than I did. Heed my warning my dear peers, and always prioritize a good night’s sleep.

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