Science | Sleep deprivation, are we getting enough shut eye?

How I wish I could sleep as I’m writing this article. There’s a ruckus outside as a house party is in full swing and I sit in my bed, pyjama clad, eating a bowl of crunchy nut clusters. And these clusters are very good.

I feel very unnerving about sleep and that most people (unless you’re an insomniac or a glittery vampire) just don’t consider how odd it is to be unconscious for approximately seven to nine hours every day. That’s a third of your life gone in a slumber. Unless you’re Leonardo da Vinci who apparently created the ‘Mona Lisa’ on two hours sleep a day – maybe that’s why her smile isn’t quite right.

Not everyone, however, has the ability to create  an Italian masterpieces on such little snooze. Sleep deprivation is as a common as Fresher’s flu and symptoms can vary from needing an alarm clock to wake up on time to problems with anxiety.

Researchers have recently discovered that technology can also seriously affect circadian (sleep) rhythm. We all love to stalk on Facebook and get to weird places on YouTube until the earlier hours but many of us do not consider the negative effects that this could be having on our biological patterns.

Light from computer screens can fool the brain that it is daytime and programmes such as f.lux (give it a Google) are working to prevent this. It’s not just students, however, that have light mess with their minds.

Astronauts, for example, can experience up to a dozen sunrises and sunsets in a day. This can cause havoc with their sleeping patterns and one rundown astronaut reportedly took fifty photos of the earth through a closed porthole before realising his error – that’s comparable to getting a disposable camera developed to find that your finger has been in front of the lens and crept onto every photo.

What perplexes me is how you sleep to gain energy yet you’re not actually gaining anything physically. When you eat food you are adding energy into your body – so why couldn’t you just eat constantly and always be wide awake? Sleep only saves about 50kcal of energy which is the equivalent to a slice of toast. So what does sleep do?

In short, sleep is so important because it helps with brain development. It can help for example, with memory consolidation. Forgot what you had for tea yesterday? You’re probably sleep deprived. So next time you get asked for a night on the razz (unless you’re a giraffe which can function on 1.9 hours of sleep per day) I’d say balls to Freshers – let’s get the crunchy nut out.


Joanne Muntas

Leave a Reply