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Sleep matters — even in finals week

Sleep matters — even in exam week.

Health Matters

Have you been dreaming about a good night’s sleep all semester? Between classes, projects, part-time jobs, trips to the dining hall, and a social life, sleep is at a premium at any university. There doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to fulfill all our obligations without sacrificing one of the things we need most — sleep. Sanford Auerbach, a School of Medicine associate professor of neurology and psychiatry and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Boston Medical Center, says sleeping eight hours a night shouldn’t be considered a treat. He calls our society’s lack of proper sleep a “rampant problem.”

“When we don’t get enough sleep, we don’t function as well,” Auerbach says. “We aren’t as sharp, our thinking isn’t as clear, our memory and reaction times are not as good.” In addition, we become more susceptible to errors, to driving and work-related accidents, and to health problems such as diabetes and a weakened immune system. We need sufficient sleep, he says, because during different stages of sleep, the body restores itself and brain cells rejuvenate some of their functions.


The average person needs seven-and-a-half to eight hours of sleep each night, but a lot of people think they need less, which isn’t always true. “People are not aware of how sleepy they truly are,” Auerbach says. “Sleepiness accumulates over time. People think, well, I didn’t get any sleep tonight, but if I get my regular sleep over the next couple of days, I’ll be fine. But that lack of sleep accumulates over time. You have to pay back your sleep debt.”

“If you get behind on sleep, try to catch up,” he says. “As we get older, it’s easier to catch up by going to bed earlier rather than by sleeping later.”

After a long day, however, it may be difficult to put the daily stresses aside and fall asleep. To help sleep come easier, Auerbach suggests developing a routine of going to bed and waking up around the same time every day, creating an appropriate sleep environment free from excessive light and noise, incorporating exercise into your daily routine, and avoiding both caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.

Also important is giving yourself some downtime before bed. “The key thing about falling asleep is you have to relax,” says Auerbach. “Relaxing can be hard if you are wound up and have been studying all day, so you need some transition time. It doesn’t matter what it is that makes you relax, maybe a television show, a certain type of music, or meditation, but relaxation is the key.”