a, Science & Technology

Ask Scitech: You snooze you lose; why you should avoid the snooze button

You spend one third of your life sleeping, according to a recent study conducted by Statistics Canada. Based on an average life span of approximately 90 years, 30 of those are commited to sleep.

Despite this commitment, a huge percentage of the population seems to be waking up too early—and on the wrong side of the bed— thanks to an unusual culprit. Add on to the list of caffeine, all-nighters, drinking, and anxiety; the revered snooze button.

According to The Chronicle, a publication at Durham College, 90 per cent of college students are sleep deprived. In addition, 3.3 million Canadians over the age of 15 (about one in seven) report difficulty both falling and staying asleep.

However, while the snooze button is a tempting option, snagging a few extra minutes of sleep doesn’t help you to wake up. Instead, smacking the snooze button and drifting off resets your sleep cycle all over again. The next time the alarm sounds, you are disturbed in a deeper and earlier part of your sleep cycle, which translates to a grumpier and less-rested you.

In addition, artificial wake-up cues disturb the natural processes your body undergoes to help you wake up. These include chemical changes, namely the release of dopamine and cortisol (‘wake-up’ hormones), an increased body temperature, and a lighter sleep. According to Assistant Director of Critical Care and Pulmonary Medicine at Maimonides Medical Center Yizhak Kupfner, using an alarm clock often interrupts your sleep cycle and cuts these processes short. As a result, you are bound to feel more tired depending on what stage you were in before the alarm went off.

Mayo Clinic sleep specialist Timothy Morgenthaler recommends seven to eight hours of sleep per night for adults, and up to 11 hours of sleep for school-age children. It may seem like a lot, but this number shouldn’t be taken lightly. Sleep is an incredibly important human necessity. As a result, interruptions to your body’s natural wake-up cues can have negative effects on performance throughout the day.

When we sleep, we are allowing our bodies to execute a variety of tasks to assist us in the coming day. These include physical processes, such as the manufacture and release of hormones, tissue growth and repair, and the replenishment of energy to the brain and body. Sleep also extends to help us perform better in our studies.

In fact, sleep has been proven to aid declarative memory, which is the retention of facts and knowledge. It plays a particularly important role in allowing individuals to retain facts when challenged with subsequent, competing information.

A study conducted by Jeffrey Ellenbogen of Harvard Medical School in 2007 showed that participants who received a good night’s sleep prior to testing performed better than those who did not. He compared subjects who began learning at 9 a.m. and returned for testing at 9 p.m without sleeping (the ‘sleepless’ subjects) with those who began learning at 9 p.m. and returned for testing at 9 a.m. after a night’s sleep (the ‘sleepers’).

The sleepers barely outperformed their sleepless peers when the groups were asked to memorize 20 pairs of random words, such as blanket and village. However, when given a twist—the subjects were forced to learn a new set of word pairs 12 minutes prior to testing—the well-rested participants recalled 76 per cent of the initial pairs, compared to a mere 32 per cent by their peers. The researchers concluded that “memories after sleep are resilient to disruption,” which goes to show that resting before an exam could improve your ability to retain the information, despite nerves and other distractions.

Furthermore, a poor quality and quantity of sleep has been shown to affect students’ performance at school. Sleep is a basic human necessity. So when you go without it, you experience symptoms that make it difficult for your brain to perform well, like low concentration. It’s the same as if you were to study while starving; it’s nearly impossible to focus on the task at hand because your body is craving another basic necessity.

While hitting the snooze button might be tempting, experts recommend adopting a more regular sleep schedule rather than ‘snoozing’ for hours to achieve a higher quality of sleep. Your body loves predictability, and the more consistently you fall asleep and rise in the morning, the better it will adapt to your routine and naturally wake itself up.

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