Sleeping your way to an A

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Dec 112002
 
Authors: Rebecca Lapole

Misunderstandings about sleep could cost you the good grade you deserve in that biology class.

“Not getting enough sleep is a chronic problem in the U.S.,” said Dr. William Moorcroft, professor of a sleep and dreams course that will be available at CSU next semester.

“The course will cover essentially the basics of what we know about sleep, dreams and dreaming, how we produce dreams and their content. The second half will cover sleep disorders and the function of dreams.” The class will be a lecture course using his book, “Understanding Sleep and Dreaming,” as the text. “Students often underestimate the importance of sleep. Lack of sleep makes people more vulnerable to sickness and falling asleep in class or at the workplace.”

A lot goes on during sleep. You don’t want to pull an all-nighter before an exam. Organization of thought and categorizing things together occurs during sleep. More sleep also definitely improves memory.

“One of my colleagues said that you temporarily lose 10 IQ points for every hour of sleep lost. Lack of sleep inhibits your ability to concentrate and think in general. It affects organization and retention,” Moorcroft said. “A brief (20 minute) nap when you get sleepy while studying can be very effective. You will be more efficient when you wake up.”

Stressed students can make matters worse for themselves by not sleeping and worrying about that. Moorcroft said, “It could just be a bad habit, where the person learned not to sleep. We reverse that, and teach them to sleep using relaxation therapy.”

A lot of people can’t sleep due to their thought process while trying to fall asleep, of how tomorrow will be a catastrophe without sleep.

“What we tell them is that they will not be as alert, but they’ll be okay. We try to moderate the extreme view of sleep. For sleep cheaters, we moderate their extreme view in an attempt to get everybody in the middle. Knowing that sleep is important, but not worrying about the perfect amount of sleep,” Moorcroft explained.

People who use alcohol to fall asleep experience more restless sleep. “You are worse off using a nightcap, and sleep is less worthwhile the more alcohol you consume.”

The rule of thumb is still to try to get eight hours of sleep, however individual differences are widespread. If you are feeling sluggish, add more hours to your sleep schedule. The need for sleep is a bell-shaped curve. Sleep inertia makes it hard to sleep too much. You usually can’t overdo it on sleep.

Have you ever had a dream about missing class, being unable to find the class, or not being prepared for class? Dr. Moorcroft said these are the most common dreams people tell him about, even if they have been out of school for a long time.

“This usually shows a fear of being unprepared or missing something. Flying dreams and falling in dreams constantly fascinates people. They always ask, ‘when you fall to your death in a dream, do you actually die?’ My response to that is ‘How do you get that data? Ask a bunch of dead people?’ Also, sex in dreams is relatively rare.”

Dream memory is affected by attitude. “A large amount of people think dreams are just ‘Foam on the Beer,’ meaning dreams are just fluff; meaningless, unimportant. The truth is that dreams can tell a person a lot about themselves,” Moorcroft said.

The way a person sleeps and how quick they wake up also affects the retention of dreams. A light sleeper usually has more memory of their dreams.

“If you wake up too slow or too fast, dreams disappear. If you wake up relatively slow and not too fast, you’ll remember more. Alarms, depending on their nature, can destroy a dream memory,” he said.

“I tell myself what time I want to wake up and I do. 25 percent can wake up without an alarm, another 25 percent set their alarm, but wake up before it goes off, 25 percent use an alarm, and 25 percent have to set three alarms and get splashed with a bucket of water to wake up. This last group is sleep deprived. You remember more dreams without an alarm. There are times when I don’t trust myself to wake up without an alarm, and that’s just when I’m sick or suffering from jet lag.”

If you’ve never tried waking up without an alarm, finals week is probably not the time to start. But other helpful sleeping tips for the upcoming finals week are:

Keep up with a regular exercise schedule.

Eat good food.

Try to get up at the same time every morning. “This keeps our body clock synchronized. Everyone has an internal biological clock. If you get up at different times all the time, it can feel like jet lag,” according to Moorcroft.

Study, sleep, dream and get the grade you deserve. Good luck on finals!

For more information contact Dr. Moorcroft at 970-308-4495.

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