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Sleep is an ignored and misunderstood natural process. The quality of our lives revolves around sleep, but we constantly underestimate its importance in our daily routine. Experts use the analogy of a debit account to explain sleep management. If you don't obtain an adequate amount of sleep, sleep debt is created. And that debt doesn't just disappear. Rather, you can build over the course of a week and even over a year large amounts of sleep debt. So, if you sleep one hour less than what you typically need for one week, you are in seven hours of sleep debt. Hence, you would need to sleep an extra seven hours to return to a healthy balance. Further, you can only reduce your sleep debt by obtaining extra sleep. On the other hand you can also accumulate sleep savings; but fortunately our body actually regulates these savings, and won't allow us to sleep when we're too well rested. Research has demonstrated the affects of short term sleep debt to be significant. Effects of long-term sleep debt are difficult to assess, but many speculate it plays roles in serious health problems and even shorter life spans. Each of us needs a different amount of sleep. But average amounts happen to be significantly higher than what we tend to believe. According to Dr. William Dement, founder and head of the Stanford University Sleep Laboratory, the average sleep requirement for college students is actually over the usual standard of eight hours per night. While sleep research is a relatively new field, tests have confirmed and highlighted the importance of proper sleep. Sleep affects our health. Strong correlations exist between quality of sleep and determining whether someone gets a cold. And certain growth hormones that help cure physical ailments are released during deep sleep stages. Sleep plays a role in defining our moods, as well. Recent wellness tests show strong relationships between an individual's happiness and the amount they sleep per night. Our ability to enjoy ourselves and take pleasure in activities and people correlates to our sleep. Sleep affects creativity and drive. Sleep deprivation decreases motivation. As Dement writes, "A lifetime of sleep research has shown me that motivation is one of the first things to go when sleep is shortchanged." Significant correlations exist between memory retention and sleep, which in part explains why people often cannot recall material several weeks after they crammed in an all-night study session right before a big exam. But despite sleep's proven importance, the basic facts concerning our slumbering remain largely ignored, resulting in fallacies and gross misunderstandings. For example, people continually trick themselves into believing they can train themselves to sleep less. Students also generally seem convinced that they can "get by" on short nights of sleep. Tests have proven this to be flat-out wrong. And researchers currently believe that nothing can change an individual's fundamental daily sleep requirement. Students often complain about waking up more tired than when they went to sleep, leading people to conclude that they can actually sleep too much. Rather, one of the reasons that many people feel tired -- even after a long night's sleep -- is the result of your body reminding you of your sleep debt, and how much more rest it really needs. Curing the problem, though, is another matter. Dement suggests that people try sleeping one more hour every night for one week, and then to look for differences. However, it would surely prove unreasonable to expect college students to ever make such plans so far in advance. But it could be simpler than that. Simply raising awareness about the benefits of sleep can prove helpful. For one thing, it might prompt us to think more carefully about how we use our nighttime hours. We continually place emphasis on making our days more efficient and organized, but we habitually place little emphasis on managing our nights. We don't think twice about sacrificing a good night's rest for any number of activities, some important but many others irrelevant. Perhaps we just need to be more aware about making time for sleep. By college, most people cannot even recall what it really feels like to be well-rested. Life can be more enjoyable, our days more interesting and efficient, and our nights more fun. Managing sleep on campus can prove to be a difficult task. We all stay up late too often, and we know it. But that doesn't mean students should be ignorant of the consequences resulting from the decisions they make about sleep.

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