The Psychology of Students : Turn Off The Lights

The Psychology of Students : Turn Off The Lights

Victoria Parent, Staff Writer

You might think that when your head hits the pillow and those eyes shut for the night that you are in for hours of blissful peace. While this may hold some truth, our brains are actually quite active during sleep. We dream and hallucinate, enter a state of paralysis and perhaps most importantly for life function, we store memories and reset our bodies. Sleeping is not only important, but essential to our success as students, and if you take away one thing from this tale, let it be this: an extra hour of sleep may serve you better than that extra hour of studying.

One can define sleep as the periodic loss of consciousness that is broken up into stages. One such stage is the REM stage, or rapid eye movement stage, during which many things occur, such as paralysis and dreaming. Most importantly, our long term memory gets built upon during REM. All day as we encode stimuli, we put the memory in short term storage, and during sleep we can cement this information into a more permanent memory via our hippocampus, which is responsible for this long term storage. But, how does this influence being a student? Well, if we do not allow ourselves enough sleep, our hippocampus can not store the information from the day, meaning some information studied and learned may slip through the cracks. Overall, sleep helps our memory, and we need a solid memory to perform our best academically.

Not only does sleep influence our memory but also our weight, cognition, biology, growth and creativity. Without the suggested minimum of 8 hours of sleep, cognitive processes like thinking and learning may slow, all while making us feel fatigued. We can gain weight when we do not sleep right, as some hunger-arising hormones get triggered and hunger-suppressing ones quiet. The pineal gland releases growth hormones when we sleep. Our body recuperates as when we sleep brain tissues get fixed and neurons repair themselves. Even creativity improves with sleep, as a good night’s sleep can give us the insight needed for moments of divergent thinking. In other words, “sleeping on it” works. Who would not want to get a solid night’s sleep after hearing all these benefits?

I know what you may be thinking: I don’t sleep much, and I do fine in school. To that, I offer my final warning: you are not as invincible as you think. Although we may have bursts of energy late at night, especially as young adults who tend to be more evening energized, a 24-hour internal clock called a circadian rhythm runs our life. A structure in our brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus releases melatonin, a hormone that contributes to sleepiness, in response to our circadian rhythms, especially in the absence of light stimuli (also known as at night). So, we can try to stay up late, but our internal clock will still try to pull us to sleep, so why try to fight it? Also, let’s be honest, if we stay up late to study, how much effective learning are we doing? In order to store things best we need to effortfully process the information we are presented with and make connections to other new information and to well-known knowledge. How many people will do so deep into the night? Another flaw with the “I’m different” mentality is that the unhealthy habits formed will have disastrous effects over time that will prove hard to alleviate. With a repeated lack of sleep, one builds a sleep deprivation, where all of the negative effects of a lack of sleep already discussed will become relatively permanent fixtures in a person’s life. This sleep deprivation cannot simply be repaid by one long night of sleep, but takes days, weeks and even months of healthy sleeping habits to make up for. Remember for the next time you want to pull that late-nighter, you may just be digging yourself into a hole that will become a huge ordeal to get out of.



  • Ms. Corcoran (Bishop Feehan AP Psychology teacher)
  • Myers’ Psychology for AP by David G. Myers