Sleep

There is a great deal of variation in sleep habits of different individuals. While taking a course in physiology, my students handed in weekly records of their hours of sleep per night. We found that most students, right or wrong, sleep less than the eight hours per night generally advised. There were very few who were exactly on the recommended average. A few slept more, usually by sleeping late on Saturday or Sunday mornings.

There could have been a certain amount of bias on the part of students who reported in this fashion. No one, for example, said they felt they really needed more sleep, because that would be a confession of poor personal management! Also the under-eight-hours students claimed, unanimously, that they “felt fine.” But both the reports and the claims constitute what is known in science as personal testimony. There is no way to check up on it.

Over the centuries, humans like other diurnal (daytime) animals have adjusted to a rhythmic sleep-awake routine based upon lack of adequate lighting after sundown. The body operates along lines of chemical and physical laws, and sleep is essential recovery from fatigue. Just how much exhaustion the body can undergo, and still “feel fine” is unknown. If college ended with a stay-awake contest, or life’s greatest challenge were to stay at the office all night several times a month, this urge to punish one’s constitution would be understandable. But when precision judgments and keen memory are the real goals, to strive voluntarily for poor physical condition borders on stupidity!
There is no argument when one gets down to the range of sleep-averages some students try to get along on. There is more than “personal testimony” involved when a student falls asleep in class, or looks and is dull and exhausted. This is empirical evidence. Many of these students, when questioned, prove to be from homes where they were severely supervised, and they had never learned to regulate their sleep by finding out their efficiency limits.

No hard-and-fast rules about sleep, such as arbitrary 8 hours for all, can be laid down. For one thing, certain body types (“endomorphic,” thin or wiry, nervous types) routinize poorly; by nature they do not keep regular hours. Others are slow, easy-going, and slightly hypothyroid in constitution, resulting in a preference for long sleep hours (“endomorphic” component high). Still others could be classed as human dynamos – muscular, very active, physically fit and tough, despite lack of sleep, and quickly mobilized for long, continuous mental activity with high efficiency (the athletic types, whose “mesomorphic” component is high). We are almost all mixtures of these types in varying proportions.

You will have to analyze yourself and see what sleep routine is best for you. Which components are more conspicuous in your physique? It is foolish to judge yourself by observing someone else’s habits, and to try to keep pace with a human dynamo unless you are clearly one yourself.

In spite of the admonition often found in how-to-study leaflets – “Get lots of sleep!” – you will have to experiment a little until you find your level of best efficiency. It may be that you can get along with less than 8 hours, and still work well, but not a great deal less, in any case! From time to time ask yourself the whimsical question, “How would ‘feeling finer’ feel?”

Making changes in those things you can control is one of the secrets of getting more out of school and college. If your grades are going down, it may be natural to think of staying up late to bring them up. But when this proves futile, why not reverse the experiment? Try sleeping more, and your up-take and retention will probably increase. This is what we mean by increasing your efficiency. By getting adequate sleep you will probably improve that precious capacity of clear thinking.

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