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By Way2k Way2k
Way2k 24 Sep 2012
Burning midnight oil: Good or bad?

Its past midnight and you are still studying. Strong coffee is beside your bed to debar a snooze. You don't want to abandon the books. And it's a bit lonely, so you've also got your mobile on your lap, vibrating away with texts from classmates, who are also awake, studying. Eyelids are heavy, but you are determined not to sleep until the task at hand is complete, no matter how late that is. But will this help score top marks, wonders Apoorva T.

Burning midnight oil: Good or bad?

Mita Kath wakes up at six, for her school starts at 8.00 am. After school hours that end at 3.30 pm, she keeps herself busy with homework till she starts getting ready for the coaching classes that begin at 5.30 pm and go on till 8.30 pm. She has just entered Grade 11 and is aspiring to enter IIT. There again, the coaching centre prescribes homework, that way the studying goes on till midnight before she finally hits the bed. Now, Kath's awed that her studying hours may extend ere long.

"It's, indeed, tiring but there's no other go. Today, the competition is so tough and to beat it, one is forced to study hard," says Kath, a student of National Public School. The coaching classes that train her for the Class 12 Board exams and entrance tests started in May. Her mother, Kusuma pays extra care and attention as this is the crucial period in her study life. There are also students who take up multiple coaching classes a day that means sleeping is restricted to less than six hours.

Why avoiding sleep? Pat comes the reply: To score more in exams. But recent research studies state just the opposite that cutting on sleep would slash scores. Students complaining of sleep disorders are on the rise of late, though study is only one of the reasons. "Sleep is crucial both for memory retention and critical thinking," says Dr. Preeti Galagali, who runs the Bangalore Adolescent Care and Counseling Center. "Sleep plays a restorative function in the body, and it is also important for the cognitive functioning of the brain," Galagali says. Lack of sleep, therefore, is likely to affect studies. "When a student sleeps after studying, whatever is cluttering his/ her memory clears and the mind starts processing which has been learned," she says. Quoting a study, she said about 12% of students sleep during classes.

Chaitra S, a final year medical student, is now accustomed to staying up long hours reading and memorising. She goes to bed at 2.00 am and hardly sleeps for five hours. "During the first two years of my course, I used to feel terribly tired and even fell ill. Then I started with yoga and exercises that helped me cope with the busy study schedule. "My PUC days were hectic as well. Especially the days before exams, students find it hard to sleep due to ex anxiety and allied adrenaline rush. But sleep is very essential to be at one's best in the ex hall," Chaitra says.

"Even now I come across myriad cases of sleep-deprived students. Some students find it hard to close their eyes even when they desperately want to. More than the body, it affects the brain and its performance," she says. Chaitra prescribes at least six hours of sleep, 10.00 pm - 4.00 am being the ideal time for that. "If you feel tired and sleep during the class hours, it means you need more sleep. Sleep-deprived students get easily distracted and find it hard to study continuously for more than half an hour. They also fail in paying attention at the classes. If you come across such symptoms, it means it's time to do something."

She also comes out with solutions: "Such students need counseling. Apart from yoga and exercises, looking at greenery and breathing fresh air would help. Pranaya can also be tried out." Kath, however, scored top rank in Class 10. "I don't force her to study. She does it on her own. I also let her rest during weekends and on days when there are no coaching classes," says Kusuma. Academic and social pressure push students to remain awake even after midnight. Professionals find the extent of sleep deprivation in both children and college-goers alarming in India.

What Study Say

A study showcased by the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) suggests that lack of sleep in students adversely impacts their retention capacity and their ability to integrate new information to solve problems. It says that learned information is often replayed and reactivated during sleep, and hence, sleep seems to be essential to the functioning of memory.

"Our findings demonstrate the importance of sleep to the ability to flexibly combine distinct concepts to solve novel problems," said one of the authors, Michael Scullen. "This ability is critical to classroom learning." So what this means is that not only is information already learned better reinforced during sleep, but also that new information and concepts are better grasped and assimilated if sleep is adequate.

Innumerable studies have been done in the last decade to prove the importance of sleep in studying, learning, attention span and academic performance. Studies conducted by Bulbotz, Brown and Barlow (2001), Murphy, Richard, Masaki, and Segalowitz (2005), and McClelland and Pilcher (2007) assessed sleep and its correlation with things like grades in school, study habits and test taking abilities. It's not only better marks that seem to cause young people to lose out on sleep. Medical experts have proven that children between the ages of ten and eighteen need a minimum of eight and a half hours of sleep, but that the average count they actually get is only around six to seven hours. This could be not only because of heavy workload, but also distractions like cellphones, television and the ever-expanding Internet.

"Not only is the quantity affected, quality of sleep is affected too," Dr. Galagali says, referring to anxiety and nightmares. There are also strong links between caffeine and substance abuse, and sleep disorders. Many teenagers today stimulate their central nervous system more than is appropriate for their bodies for a number of reasons. Jennifer C Cousins of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre says, "Poor sleep and poor sleep habits are associated with substance use, emotional problems, and cognitive problems. Which causes which is a delicate question - but we know there's a definite connection between all these problems, and getting caught up in one problem will definitely lead to the other in a risky downward spiral."

Part-Time Jobs? Think Twice

Nilotpal Santa knows all about losing sleep. "During my under-graduation and throughout my MBA, I used to study through the day and work through the night."

During his B.Com at Brindavan College, he took up night shifts at a call centre. During his MBA at Presidency College, he also worked as a financial assistant. "I'd come to the college straight from work, sometimes go sleepless for days. I used to miss classes or doze off. I lost weight, even while I was eating well, and I'd get frustrated easily. It was more mental sickness than physical sickness," he said. He wouldn't recommend anybody to have such a lifestyle. "I couldn't concentrate in classes and focus on assignments. My memory power was going down, I couldn't retain what I was studying," he said.

Experts point out the slow-poison effect of sleep disorders, which can be linked, morbidly, to far too many other health and social problems - ADHD, learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, diabetes, obesity, drug abuse and insomnia. "When one sleeps less, the whole system goes for a toss and the body starts releasing excess hormones," Galagali warns. Handling exams and other educational pressures can be stressful, but the students should learn to balance them with routines that embody a healthy lifestyle.


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