Are you a sleep bulimic?

Do you regularly “purge” sleep during the weekdays and then “binge” on the weekends?  If so, you may be a sleep bulimic.  This sort of pattern, lose out on sleep during the week and make up for it on the weekend may seem to make sense.  It all adds up to the same amount of sleep, right?  Unfortunately no.  Lack of sleep during the week will affect your productivity and performance, i.e. your grades, and no amount of sleep on the weekend can get that back.

Your brain is designed to solve hard problems while you sleep.  Have you ever been stumped by a problem and no matter how long you stay up and work on it you just can’t solve it.  You hit the sack and the next morning, lo and behold, you have the answer!  That is sleep doing its thing.  Studies have shown that sleep pinpoints the tasks a person is having difficulty learning and resolves them overnight.

So, skip the all-nighter.  These have been linked to lower grades and not just for the next day.  The effects of an all-nighter can last for as long as 4 days, impairing both memory and reasoning. And forget the get up early and do some cramming before the exam option.  Waking up earlier than usual could interfere with rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep.  This is the sleep that aids memory.  So, while you might think that one more review of your notes will help, it could actually be affecting what you have already learned. 

Instead, get yourself on a regular sleep schedule.  This is especially important if you have an upcoming exam.  And, if your exam is on Monday, try to stick to the schedule on the weekend as well.  Remember the effects of missing sleep can last for several days which could impact your Monday morning exam. 

And if you find yourself feeling drowsy during the day, opt for a power nap as opposed to caffeine.  Caffeine will keep you awake, but it doesn’t help process what you’ve learned.  A short nap will recharge your brain and give you an energy burst.  Keep it under 20 minutes, though.  Anything longer and you’ll find yourself feeling groggy.

Submitted by Tina Comston, M.Ed.

Reviewed by Mary Lynn Kiacz, MD