I’m in a class right now about sleep (Psych 435: Biological Rhythms and Behavior), and it has definitely been one of the more interesting and relevant classes I’ve taken since coming to this university. On the first day of class, my professor told us that she didn’t believe in using textbooks because they were not up to date on the most recent sleep research, so instead of paying for a textbook, we spent our money on a Zeo device. For those of you who haven’t heard of Zeo, it’s a small headband you wear while you’re asleep that will track and record your sleep. It tells you how much time you spend in REM and non-REM sleep, how many minutes it took you to fall asleep, and how many times you woke up in the middle of the night. Then, it gives you suggestions on how to improve your sleep.
My favorite feature of this device is definitely the alarm. For those of you who don’t know, you feel the most refreshed when you wake up at the end of a full sleep cycle (each cycle is typically 90 minutes but varies between individuals). On the other hand, if you force yourself to wake up in the middle of your cycle, you tend to feel more groggy and sleepy for the rest of the day. The alarm on the Zeo device will wake you up only at the end of your sleep cycle–that way, even if you can only get a few hours of sleep (like so many college students experience), you can maximize your sleep efficiency by waking up only at the end of a sleep cycle.
I actually hated measuring my sleep at the beginning of the semester because it just made me depressed to see how poor my sleep quality was. They give you a score (1-100) for overall sleep each night, and while the average person gets a score of around 80, I was consistently getting a score in the 40’s and 50’s. One time, I even got a shocking 74. But that never happened again.
Sometimes, I thought my Zeo device was broken. I thought it was impossible that I could be scoring in the 40’s because I slept completely fine. Sure, I was tired in the morning, but who isn’t? I just make myself a cup of coffee and I’m good to go for the rest of the day. I am perfectly fine performing my daily activities and I never feel sleepy during class. But why was this Zeo device telling me otherwise?
Well, I got my question answered in a research article we read for that class, and I am still shocked at the results of their study. In this study, they concluded that chronic sleep restriction (defined as 6 hours of sleep or less p/night) produced cognitive performance deficits equivalent to 2 nights of total sleep deprivation. I will spare you the horrifying details from the results of their study, but basically, I function just as well as someone who has pulled 2 all nighters in a row.
What?! There are definitely periods of time when I consistently get 5-6 hours of sleep a night, but I didn’t think the effects would be that detrimental. The article stated that people who are chronically sleep deprived (like me) don’t think of themselves as feeling that tired (me again), but that is almost more dangerous because they believe that can function completely normally.
I can definitely relate. I don’t pull all nighters that frequently, but when I do, I feel like complete crap. However, when I get 6 hours of sleep for a week or two, I just get so used to it and become so dependent on caffeine that I feel just fine.
Now it all makes sense. My zeo device was not wrong. I just overestimated my cognitive abilities.
As the semester is quickly ending and finals are approaching, I find it almost impossible to get more than 6 hours of sleep. But now I’m torn because it may be doing more harm and good to stay up late working on an essay or studying for an exam if I’m really going to be that cognitively impaired. Maybe if I slept earlier, I’d be more efficient working during the day. On the other hand, sleeping the night before an exam when I haven’t gone over all my notes is really not going to help me much.
Any thoughts or ideas?