According to Abraham Maslow, a psychologist from the mid-20th century who created the well-known hierarchy of need, sleep is one of mankind’s basic needs and is on the same level as food, water and shelter — three things widely recognized as necessary for human survival. With the history of sleep being so positive, given that sleep is scientifically proven to be necessary, it is surprising that sleep has slowly twisted into something for humankind to escape.
According to a study conducted by Harvard Medical school in 2008, sleep is notably linked to the process of learning and is instrumental to that process. In the study, the “three learning processes” or the three different steps the brain takes to “learn” something, are defined as acquisition, consolidation and recall. The study referenced an earlier study from 2001 that found only 11% of American college students sleep well, with 73% admitting to "at least occasional sleep issues," which means most students are not only not feeling rested, but most likely are not learning and recalling what they were taught in class. And class, of course, is one of the main reasons college exists. So what causes recent generations to skip out on sleep?
In my opinion, the answer is perfectionism. Millennials and Generation Z live in a culture that expects them to work tirelessly to achieve the same things Generation X and Baby Boomers did. Not only is the traditional family model outdated and arbitrary, but in an increasingly competitive world, it may be impossible for millennials and Generation Z to achieve some of these things and be financially stable and happy, leaving them to work toward a goal that is unfeasible. Combined with the pressures from families and society to fix all of the messes older generations have made, it’s no wonder that recent generations have fallen victim to the perfectionism bug.
According to Psychology Today, being a perfectionist means a person has excessive expectations of themselves and their work, and they end up being overly critical of everything they produce. According to the same article, perfectionism has “increased substantially among young people in the last 30 years." If this personality trait develops, it is likely to be coupled with anxiety, depression and insomnia, factors which are all detrimental to success.
Now, to bring that all back to the sleep factor, insomnia can cause its own range of problems, including weight gain, lowered immune system, and, much like perfectionism, depression, anxiety and lowered academic success. Crazy, right? I cannot emphasize enough how important sleep is to a person’s well-being, especially a college student pushing through tough classes. With perfectionism being so prevalent in today’s society and only 11% of students getting the right amount of sleep, sleep deprivation is becoming normalized among young people, something I personally call the “all-nighter” phenomenon. Through my high school and college experience, pulling an all-nighter is something every student has done and it’s seen as a joke or even a positive thing. In the pursuit of the perfect test score, the perfect project, the perfect presentation, students chug caffeine or even take amphetamines to work through the night and skip out on their beauty rest. They then come to class the next day, bragging to their friends about the all-nighter they just pulled so they can be applauded for their commitment and work ethic. This is extremely problematic in terms of young people’s mental health and perception of what is and isn’t healthy.
If losing sleep negatively affects the brain’s learning processes, those times when we pull all-nighters are examples of us winning battles but ultimately losing the war of achievement and learning in college. School isn’t only about grades; it’s about gaining knowledge and growing as a person from what you’ve learned. And on a more important level, sleep is essential for your body’s everyday functions and needs to be treated as such. Next time your friend tells you they’ve pulled an all-nighter, tell them to treat themselves with more love and to get some sleep. Next time you have a big test, work on your time management skills and do a little studying every day for a week, get some sleep and crush your test while not feeling fatigued with a massive headache. We’ve done wonders in terms of making sure we’re adequately hydrated and now it’s time to crush the incessant need for perfection and go to bed.
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