Last month we talked about how to take care of yourself during the dark days of winter. By the time Valentine’s Day comes and goes, we begin to take tiny steps towards spring. The days are not quite as short. It’s light out until 6:30 now, and the sun makes sudden, bright appearances that give us hope that we will see it again in the not-too-distant future.
As the semester ages, however, it’s important to remember one caretaking task. This one’s a hard one for lots of GVSU students, but it’s critical for success: you need to get your sleep. Most young people take it for granted that they can keep going forever on their natural stamina supplemented with caffeine, but if you don’t sleep enough, eventually it will catch up with you and your health and performance will suffer. Often when we think of the consequences of lack of sleep, we get an image of something dramatic and life threatening, like falling asleep at the wheel and crashing your car. It can undercut your well-being in a number of ways that are more subtle but still very debilitating.
Sleep is necessary for good brain function. It’s hard to concentrate when you’re tired. The brain forms new pathways during sleep and clears your mind out so it can fully function again when you’re awake. It’s far more difficult to learn and be creative when you’re exhausted. Caffeine will give you temporary, artificial stimulation, but it does nothing to repair and revitalize your brain. Only sleep (and good nutrition) can do that. If there’s any time you’ve needed your brain to be at it’s best, it’s during college. Don’t sabotage it now.
Sleep is vital for the rest of your body too. Sleep helps your body to revitalize the rest of its tissues as well. If it’s constantly going, your body has to use its energy to maintain motion. When it stops and rests, it can focus that energy on repairing and replenishing. Without that, over time, organ failure will occur sooner, and the immune system won’t function correctly, so you will feel sicker and even more tired. Sleep also helps the body to regulate its hormones and insulin. A lack of sleep is correlated with obesity and diabetes. If losing weight is a goal for you, one way you can help achieve it is to get more sleep.
But rather than think about all of the negative things that can happen if you don’t get enough rest over time, focus on how much better you do feel when you get enough sleep. You feel rested, alive, and able to take on your day. You are able to focus and excel at the tasks in front of you and finish your work sooner. All of us in GVSU housing stay up too late sometimes, and there are deadlines that can’t be ignored, but if you want to stay healthy, feel good, and do your best this semester, you’ll do one simple thing more often: go to bed when you’re tired.