Volume 96, Issue 98
Thursday, April 3, 2003

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Doctors say sleep or be stupid

By Jillian Van Acker
Gazette Staff


Tired, stressed and delirious.

It's that time of year when pulling all-nighters becomes a reality. At some point of our undergraduate experience, we will suffer through at least one night without sleep due to academic responsibilities. Sleep is often sacrificed for the need to cram for an exam or write an essay from scratch, but it isn't necessarily a good idea.

"The average person needs between seven and eight hours of sleep [a night]," said Dr. Harjinder Gill, a clinical assistant at the Sleep Disorders Centre of Metropolitan Toronto. "Some people need nine to 10 hours of sleep every night. The best way to gauge [if you have had enough sleep] is how you feel in the morning."

Gill said there are four different stages of sleep, with stages three and four called deep sleep, also known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Those final stages are very important for proper repair of the body, he added.

"We go through four or five cycles of non-REM to REM, with each cycle lasting 120 minutes per cycle," Gill said, adding the deepest level of sleep, also the dreaming stage, is needed for memory.

"Sleep deprivation here and there does not have much of an effect," Gill said. "The effects are more cumulative if frequent and include fatigue, sleepiness, confusion, difficulty with memory and difficulty with concentration."

"New memories are not formed immediately," said Dr. Stephan Kšhler, assistant professor with the department of psychology at Western. "They require extra processing, called consolidation, that makes information resistant to forgetting."

Kšhler added that consolidation is linked to down time of the brain, and that REM sleep is particularly important. However, other sleep phases can be just as important depending on what is trying to be remembered, whether a fact or a skill.

"With lack of sleep, you're more likely to forget. The information may still be there in the morning, but it might not be there in a day or two," Kšhler said. "The best way [to remember information] is to think of it in relation to what you already know. This occurs through thinking about it instead of simply rereading."

Kšhler calls this process integration or elaboration, adding spacing is just as important, as there has to be a certain amount of time left between repetitions of the reading.

"[Cramming creates] only free-floating facts that aren't connected," Kšhler said. "It is [unlikely] they would be able to use that information after an exam."

Steve Learmonth, a fourth-year student in combined biochemical engineering and economics, said he used to pull all-nighters on an almost weekly basis in first-year, but has yet to pull one this school year.

"I really didn't get down to business until there was a pressing urgent need to, and that left me pulling all-nighters," Learmonth explained. "I don't have to [now] because I'm better prepared."

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