Long nights drowning in coffee and reading technical textbooks are scenarios health students know all too well.
While it’s important to stay on top of your education, getting enough quality sleep is equally as essential—if not more.
And in a field where both theoretical knowledge and practical application are tested, the amount of time you sleep can drastically affect your performance.
You’re probably no stranger to the harmful effects of sleep deprivation—but in many cases, we tend to overlook this matter and squeeze in a few hours of extra studying.
But at a certain point, the increase in study time becomes futile as our brain becomes unable to cooperate with us, essentially begging us to get some much-needed rest.
To give you a more comprehensive look at the realm and importance of sleep, here are some reasons why health students should not forgo sleep any longer.
1. Sleep prevents burnout
For a course as vigorous and intense as medicine, it’s easy for students to run the risk of burnout. This phenomenon can make you demotivated and highly unreceptive to acquiring new information, essentially shutting down the brain’s natural efficiency.
Burnout is further exacerbated if a person is constantly facing sleepless or low-sleep nights. This is because they can’t sleep long enough to recover from yesterday’s stress, which essentially prevents the body from entering the resetting capabilities that getting enough sleep typically allows us to do.
When you sleep the recommended amount of hours a night, you prevent your body from entering its “fight-or-flight” response. This is only unlockable when in the deepest phase of sleep—REM sleep. This phase, in particular, is responsible for fully relaxing the body and helping regulate yesterday’s emotions.
Once you do enter that phase, you calm down much more easily and feel less “under control” over your studies and medical student obligations. This helps you feel less prone to burnout overall.
2. Sleep improves concentration
Being in a constant state of sleep deprivation can cause your attention span to decline quite significantly. This is because the brain becomes unable to recover from the information load it received from the previous days.
This is especially true in the case of health students, as they have to constantly be on their toes to grasp complex topics and intricate procedures.
On a technical level, our brain goes through multiple stages of sleep, all of which aid in cognitive restoration and concentration. If we don’t hit all these cycles, our ability to think clearly may be thwarted in the following days, making us more prone to foggy thinking.
Furthermore, a lack of sleep also impairs the function of the prefrontal cortex. This not only makes us more anxious, but it also makes us less attentive and more susceptible to distractions. As such, sleep is essential to keep our concentration levels at an optimal place.
3. Sleep improves memory retention
Sleep helps consolidate memories throughout the day and transform a select few short-term memories into long-term ones.
Throughout the various sleep stages, particularly during REM sleep, the brain actively processes and stores the day’s events, academic lessons, and hands-on experiences—all of which are crucial for shaping a medical student’s expertise.
Furthermore, neural connections also strengthen when you have good-quality sleep. This enhances the brain’s ability to retain and recall information.
Without sufficient sleep, however, the memory retention process may be disrupted, leading to difficulties in retaining the information you’ve studied or learned, particularly in the long term.
4. Sleep boosts your immune system
Sleep isn’t only good for protecting our brain health, it also plays a large role in bolstering our immune system.
During sleep, our bodies produce two crucial immunity boosters: cytokines and T-cells. These cells protect the body from viral infections and reduce inflammation throughout the body.
For health students, particularly those who have duties around the hospital, a strong immune system is vital to ensure good health and a protective shield against illnesses. In fact, people who slept less than 6 hours a night are 27% more likely to develop an illness.
The reason why poor sleep can contribute to an increased risk of illnesses is that there’s simply not enough time for the body to produce as many antibodies and white blood cells as they should.
As such, it’s important to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep as it can improve your vitality and immune system.
5. Sleep gives you energy
Even if you’re young and at the peak of your life, your body still needs to rest at some point. Sleeping helps you recharge and replenish energy that you’ve lost.
If you exercise often (which you most definitely should), sleeping a good number of hours per night helps promote muscle recovery and improves your stamina. Your body also produces more protein and removes dead toxins.
When you lack sleep, your stamina will decrease and you won’t have the physical energy to take on a variety of everyday tasks. As a medical student, being in your A-game is paramount to succeed in your field—so don’t take sleep lightly!
6. Sleep improves your mood
Have you ever realized how easily grumpy you become when you’re low on sleep? When you experience poor sleep, it often results in your brain being unable to effectively regulate emotions properly.
This gets even worse if you’re diagnosed with a sleep condition. Being afflicted by chronic sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea can increase the risk of mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Fortunately, there are businesses like CPAP Direct that can help you get started on CPAP therapy if you suffer from this condition.
If you have adequate amounts of sleep per night, you can reap all the benefits of a more refreshed brain. This includes better emotional regulation and improved mental clarity—which lead to better health outcomes overall.
7. Sleep makes you more productive
Sure, sacrificing sleep gives you more “hours” to study. But if you don’t retain any information during those hours, it’s hard to see the point of it.
If you don’t get enough sleep, your cognitive faculties won’t be at their peak and you could unknowingly suffer from it.
If you continue a lifestyle of late-night studying, you won’t be able to retain as much information as you would when you’re adequately rested, causing you to enter a vicious cycle of sleeplessness and subpar performance.
Instead, it’s infinitely better to set your studies aside during the day and allocate 7 to 8 hours of rest per day. You may consider looking into time management techniques like the Pomodoro technique to help you stay on target with your goals as a medical student.
Good luck and stay well rested!