Sleep is for the Strong | Sadia Ahmed

Sleep deprivation is something that the majority of us (as teenagers, A-level students and sufferers of on-going existential crises) are accustomed to.

“I’m tired”

“I didn’t get enough sleep last night”

“I need to have a nap”

If we HWSF students (or, Harristocrats, as we should be called) were to form our own country, our national anthem would, no doubt, contain at least one of the three lines above. Although sleeping (among eating, drinking and getting rid of waste products) should, by default, be at the top of our biological agendas, it doesn’t seem to be at the top of our artificial academic/social agendas. Sleep is a biological process that we deny ourselves, for the sake of deadlines and parties, and subsequently obsess over.

Much research has been conducted into the importance of sleep, as well as how many hours of sleep we ought to be getting per night. On one end of the spectrum, some psychologists maintain that 9 hours of sleep is essential for the necessary restorative and memory consolidation processes associated with sleep to take place. Others argue that 6 hours per night should cut it, and the NHS suggests a figure somewhere in between the two. Anything below 6 hours is unhealthy, akin to starving oneself of food when hungry, or denying oneself water when thirsty (which, admittedly, is something I, and most of my fellow Muslim readers, do in Ramadan).

It shocks me when I read articles about entrepreneurs and senior officials who regularly get less than 6 hours of sleep per night, but still manage to perform at high (though not optimal) cognitive levels. Some of these high-flying individuals actually idealise this way of life, even though it can quickly lead to a state of burnout. Margaret Thatcher famously ran the country on around 4 hours of sleep per night, and (whether or not you’re a fan of her views and policies) she deserves some praise for this, especially since the human body is not naturally predisposed to resist sleep. Thatcher, like many of us today, prioritised work (and perhaps a fair degree of partying) over her slumber. But what are the potential long-term effects of going against our natural biological instincts in this way?

Every body operates on the basis of an internal ‘clock’ (commonly referred to as a circadian rhythm). This system has a biochemical oscillating function, and is sensitive to environmental cues such as light and temperature. In the modern world, artificial lights (from streetlights to the blue light being emanated from whichever device you are reading this article on) are ubiquitous. This means that people are awake and alert for longer (and we have Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb to thank for this) however this does not necessarily mean that we are being more productive.

Sleep deprivation causes a decline in human productive efficiency. This goes without saying: a lack of sleep can result in lower concentration levels at school, greater susceptibility to diseases (such as heart failure) as well general irritability, and lower energy levels. Some people might find puffy eyes attractive, but the rest of us know that good overall health and wellbeing is heavily reliant on getting a good night’s rest.

I guess that, by now, we should all be aware of this fact. The real issue lies in how we can overcome the obstacles that prevent us from sleeping adequate amounts in the first place: from stress to hyperactivity. Firstly, having anything that contains caffeine in the few hours preceding your bedtime (no, you’re not too cool to have a bedtime) is a terrible idea. Using your phone in bed, as tempting as it is to scroll through the profiles of people that don’t actually care about you, is also a bad idea. Making yourself tired before bed is a good idea: this can be achieved by being very active in the daytime. Exercise, studying, and socialising can all be used to achieve this form of exhaustion.

Essentially, the key is to press the reset button on your circadian clock. Perhaps consider planning an Exeat day or a holiday to completely exhaust yourself by working out (your body or your mind, though if you’re as athletically inept as I am, you’ll probably end up ditching the former for the latter). Sleep at a desirable time, wake up when your body feels like it should, and maintain a sleep routine. Your brain and body will thank you for doing this. A bonus feature is that (according to researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden) getting enough sleep can make a person more physically alluring.

Sleep is something the majority of us need to desperately need to catch up on; it is integral to maintaining good emotional and physiological wellbeing, and it isn’t for the weak.

It’s for the strong. 

(I’ve mentioned the word ‘sleep’ twenty times in this article, so if reading this article doesn’t make you feel drowsy before bed, you’re a lost insomniac cause)


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