Jeff Wyngaarden

SHEC Media

Here it is – the last month of class. Now is the time when term papers are due, when we once again question why midterms can occur at the end of the term, and when we begin frantic preparations for exams. Amidst all these academic pressures there’s holiday planning, club meetings, part-time work for some and thesis work for others. How do you keep on top of it all?

At times it seems like the only solution is hard work and long hours. Many pull all-nighters in November in order to get those last touches done on this or that final project; some even manage an entire week of running on coffee and adrenaline, topping out at three or four hours of sleep a night. November is an erratic month of changing weather and changing habits, of sleepless nights and sleep-filled classes, of last-minute crunches and long hours of procrastination.

“With closing eyes and resting head I know that sleep is coming soon.” So ends the first verse of Eric Whitacre’s timeless piece “Sleep”, an ode to that necessary human activity that is so elusive at this time of year. “Too bad,” you may be thinking. “My eyes keep closing, but if sleep comes soon I’ll miss my deadline!”

Most of the time, getting enough sleep is a matter of prioritizing. Sleeping is a key part of staying healthy (How many people do you know who get sick after a few all-nighters?) and a crucial break away from the hectic, work-a-day atmosphere of campus. Normal sleep cycles help your body to heal and your brain to process information in ways that scientists don’t yet entirely understand. What’s more, getting enough sleep helps you stay focussed and alert during the day, so you may not need to spend quite as much time studying as you might think.

As time spent sleeping goes up, so does productivity. But when you start sacrificing sleep, it’s a long, hard climb out of the zombified state of perpetual fatigue and into the land of the living. “But how can I get enough sleep now? I already need to work 80 hours a week just to get things done!” Sure, there is a limit to the sleep-productivity correlation; you can’t expect to get all your work done if you’re sleeping all the time. Usually it comes down to using time productively, and this includes time spent sleeping and relaxing. In general, if you are focussed and efficient while working you’ll feel more accomplished when you take a break, and you’ll feel more tired.

How is this a good thing? If you feel tired then you are forced to relax, your relaxation is more effective, and your sleep tends to be deeper. There’s a reason most religions recommend a time of rest after a period of hard work; your body and your mind need it!

The key to relaxing, recuperating and recovering is to put as much effort into it as you do into your work.

This means being focussed – you can’t relax as well if you spend the whole time thinking about all the work you have to do. Take a day, a few hours, or even just an afternoon to go for a hike, read a book for fun, play games with your friends, or visit home. If you focus on relaxing you’ll be better rested by the time you need to start working again, and as a result you’ll probably feel happier and be able to work more efficiently.

Of course, there will be times when relaxation isn’t enough. Sleep disorders, though rare, do exist, and sometimes need to be treated by a professional. There are many resources available if you have questions about sleep – any health centre on campus will have information on sleep and relaxation issues and will be able to make referrals to the professionals that can help with treatment. If you have questions or concerns about your sleep habits, don’t hesitate to contact an information hotline or visit a clinic.

As you head into this holiday season, get a jump start on your vacation by making sleep and relaxation a regular part of your schedule. Maybe this means hitting the hay early instead of hitting the bars, visiting family instead of the library, or just planning a full day with no work.  Chances are you’ll feel happier, healthier and wiser as you head into the final round of first term.  Sleep tight!

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