In today’s fast-paced world, where people are juggling work, school, and family, sleep often gets tossed aside as a luxury. A good night’s sleep is essential for the brain to commit the day’s events to memory and to recover the body’s energy, among other functions.

So what does that mean for a society that is becoming increasingly sleep-deprived? For starters, a constant lack of sleep impacts metabolism, blood pressure, and mood, and may even lead to heart disease and diabetes.

The number of non-fatal car crashes due to driver drowsiness is also on the rise, comprising 1‒3% of all police-recorded non-fatal crashes. According to the Sleep Medicine Group, a chain of sleep clinics in the GTA, driver sleepiness accounts for 4% of all motor vehicle fatalities.

An article in Psychology Today states that, on average, adults get less than seven hours of sleep, but they need eight to perform optimally. The article also went on to say, “New research reveals that sleep loss affects the body on a systemic level as well, creating metabolic and immune disruptions that can cause obesity, heart disease, reduced fertility—even cancer.”

Yet many students see sleep deprivation as an unavoidable part of the university experience.
“You have to worry about all your homework, assignments, and class hours,” says Ashley Jagdat, a second-year commerce student. Of the 10 students interviewed, nine said they got between five and seven hours of sleep a night, often going to bed between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. All cited schoolwork as the main reason for going to bed so late, while procrastination, employment, and housekeeping were some of the others.

The Sleep Medicine Group’s website states that “85% of teenagers are not getting enough sleep […] 26% of students get six hours or less on a school night”. The clinics’ definition of teenager, in regards to sleep deprivation, is anyone between the ages of 11 and 25.

During puberty, a young adult’s circadian rhythm—the body’s natural timing system, which regulates the cycle of wakefulness and drowsiness—is constantly shifting. As a result, the sleep habits people establish as young adults influence the health of their circadian rhythm later in life. The common signs of sleep deprivation in a young adult include difficulty waking up in the morning, irritability in the early afternoon, and falling asleep easily throughout the day.

Fortunately, a single good night’s sleep, called “recovery sleep”, can reverse the adverse effects of prolonged sleep deprivation.

According to the sleep clinic, the quality of sleep has a greater effect than the quantity. Interestingly, studies have shown that people reach the deepest state of sleep faster when they sleep for a smaller amount of time.

The sleep clinic suggests maintaining regular waking times rather than sleeping in on days off, going to bed when drowsy, and engaging in calming pre-sleep rituals, all of which help the body maintain a healthy circadian rhythm.

In addition, regular exercise approximately six hours before bed is encouraged. Heavy exercise too close to bedtime leaves the body stimulated and results in restless sleep.

Trying to fit sleep into our busy schedules is stressful enough without having to worry about the harmful results of a lack of sleep. After all, we often feel we need to be productive by extending our waking hours further and further into the night. But the reality is that we’re not only more alert if we put work off till we’ve slept better—we also avoid several serious health risks.