I’m Up All Night To Get Unlucky: How Sleep Affects Learning, Mood, and Your Chances of Getting Laid (And What To Do About It)

Written By Laura Oviedo-Guzman

Years and years ago, when Farmville was still popping off on Facebook, I saw a meme that read, “Dear sleep, I know we had problems when I was younger, but I love you now.” Being a cocky 13-year-old, I thought, “fuck a nap, (I had just learned to curse!) sleep is a waste of time.” Fast-forward 10 years, and I’m preparing to do a sleep study after writing this article because I haven’t had a consistently restful sleep in six months, leaving me groggy, irritable, and without the energy to do the things I enjoy. What the hell happened?

While I can’t find the answer, I can think of factors that have messed with my sleep. A big one? University. Specifically, the change in my schedule and responsibilities accompanying starting university, inconsistent bedtimes and wake-up times, all-nighters, and caffeine. I am just starting to figure it out four years later, with only a semester left before finishing my degree. While I’m always happy to learn how to treat myself better, I wish I had known this when I first started post-secondary. Some of you reading this may just be starting university and may be excited or nervous about your new classes, new classmates, and possibly even a new living situation. Congrats to you! I urge you to read and take away from this article a few things you can adopt that might help you sleep better, wake up refreshed, and feel more grounded; unlike my presently jittery self. Some of you may be in the later years of your degree or not in school. Some of the pressures of university may be absent from your life. However, if we know anything about life is that it’s always going to apply pressure. So, I encourage you to keep reading because, as I said earlier, it’s never too late to learn how to treat yourself better.

Sleeping Isn’t a Waste of Time

Speaking with people and evaluating my attitude about sleep, I have come to know that we often regard sleep as a waste of time; a necessary evil that we need to “do” to engage in activities that we enjoy (or that we need to get done, like work and assignments). However,  sleep is not evil and is extremely necessary. Sleep is a regenerative activity that allows the cells in our body to multiply and repair themselves, and helps consolidate memory and learning. For example, think of newborn babies. According to Michael Breus, their little bodies and brains require that they sleep for 14 to 17 hours per day because they’re growing at an exponential rate. We do not need to sleep for this seemingly obscene amount of time per day because we’re not growing at the same rate as a newborn. Our bodies still need adequate rest to repair the damage incurred from daily activities and to help our brains form the connections that provide us with new knowledge. According to Healthline, sleep is the most regenerative period of our lives since our daytime functions, like eye and muscle movement, come to a halt to allow energy to be dedicated to “replenishing energy, cells, tissues, and muscle.”

If your goal is to do the best you can in your courses and soak in as much of the knowledge around you, sleep is key. Learning and mood are all affected by sleep. In an article written for the Perelman School of Medicine’s Chronobiology and Sleep Institute, Kelly Cappello cites a 2011 study that found a strong link between sleep and the ability to learn. In this study, half of the participants were allowed to sleep between two learning sessions, spaced out by a six-hour period. The other half of the participants were required to go about standard activities. The students who napped between sessions “learned just as easily” during the second session as they did in the earlier one. However, the group who didn’t nap had a marked decrease in learning ability. 

You may have heard that sleep and mood are connected and share a two-way relationship, meaning that sleep can affect mood, and mood can affect sleep. As reported by Harvard Healthy Sleep, partial sleep deprivation–not getting enough sleep–can contribute to increased irritability, feelings of anger, and sadness. Additionally, a lack of sleep can contribute to the development of depression and “an even greater risk factor for anxiety.” Having sufficient and enough quality sleep can help our hypothalamus–our bodies’ emotional regulation centre–have the time it needs to reset, allowing us to be in a better headspace to approach others and be approached by potential friends. It’s also worth noting that a lack of sleep affects how we present to other people. A 2010 experimental study found that individuals who were sleep deprived were perceived to appear “less healthy and less attractive compared with when they are well rested.” So if you’re looking to get laid, consider getting yourself into bed first.

Sleep Hygiene

If you’re worried about your learning and your chances of having a bangin’ first year after reading the scary outcomes of sleep deprivation above, I’m here to tell you that there are some steps you can take to ensure you’re getting enough good quality sleep. The answer to this (unless you have an underlying sleep disorder, then please follow your doctor’s orders) is sleep hygiene.

I first heard about the term sleep hygiene on an episode of Fat Mascara in 2020 titled “How to Get Your Beauty Sleep with Dr. Michael Breus.” When Breus (known online as the Sleep Doctor) uttered those words, I almost rolled my eyes because I thought he would talk about “clean sleep” in the moralistic, fear-mongering way some brands talk about the products in our house. For example, many “clean” beauty brands will market themselves as sustainable because they use natural ingredients. The consumer, drawn in by the green packaging, buys the product thinking they support sustainable initiatives when, in reality, that “natural ingredient” requires a resource-intensive agricultural process, making the final product far from “sustainable.” My cynicism didn’t have a chance to settle before he defined sleep hygiene as the aspects of our sleeping environment and the daily habits that influence our quality and quantity of sleep. Here are his top five tips for practicing better sleep hygiene and getting a better night’s sleep:

  1. Follow a Consistent Sleep Schedule. In Breus’ words, “of all the sleep tips you could ever read or hear about, this is the most important.” Following a consistent sleep schedule helps keep our bodies internal clock in sync, making other bodily functions operate more smoothly, including our appetites. So, pick a time to wake up, calculate when you need to go to bed to get your full 7-9 hours per night (the recommended for the typical post-secondary-aged student), and stick to it, even on weekends.
  2. No more coffee for you when the clock strikes 2. When 2:00 PM rolls around, skip the line at Starbucks or Tim’s. I know it can be hard to do because it’s convenient and (sometimes) tasty to treat yourself to a silly little caffeinated drink before your afternoon or evening class but don’t do it. Caffeine, the chemical that gives us that sought-after “second wind,” is a stimulant with a half-life of eight hours. So, if you drink a chai latte with sweet cream cold foam at 2:00 PM, by 10:00 PM, the level of caffeine in your system will be reduced but will continue to affect your ability to fall asleep.
  3. No Alcohol Within 3 Hours of Bedtime. Did you ever hear your mom talk about how her parents gave her a drop of whiskey in their bottle to help her fall asleep? No? Okay. Me neither… In all seriousness, alcohol makes you fall asleep faster but doesn’t help you reach the deep stage of sleep, where the most restful sleep occurs. It is also the most regenerative stage and the stage that strongly influences your brain’s ability to store knowledge about how to do new things. If that doesn’t throw you off, think about how you’ll have to haul yourself to the bathroom, on shitty sleep, to pee, or how alcohol will make you snore and make your roommates hate you.
  4. Movement. The health nuts were right; exercise makes you feel great. What’s even more enraging is that exercise can make you look great because it helps to produce growth hormones that help your body repair itself while you sleep. Don’t fear losing your gains to cardio; fear losing them to lost sleep. Exercising can also help “plunge you into longer, deeper sleep” and help you fall asleep more quickly. Often, lower-impact exercises like walking for 30-minutes and a 20-minute yoga session can help cross this off your to-do list.
  5. Get 15 Minutes of Sunlight Every Morning. A while ago, I saw a meme about how we can get a little sunshine and feel like a different person. So true, bestie ♥️. Getting sun as soon as possible after waking up can help your brain stop producing melatonin, a hormone your brain produces in response to darkness. This will help you wake up.

In the Fat Mascara episode mentioned earlier, Breus also said that it’s important to limit the amount of time we spend on our phones to about an hour before our bedtime. The blue light can interrupt melatonin production, impairing our ability to fall asleep. On that note, having a dark, distraction-free room is key to falling and staying asleep.

I appreciated Breus’ understanding that many of us live with roommates, and it may be hard to have your space as dark or quiet as you’d like. Some of his suggestions to navigate this include buying an eye mask, using earplugs, and even using a sound machine to cancel out the noise around you. A quick YouTube search of “pink noise” or “brown noise” can be as effective as buying one of those little machines.

While I’m not the Sleep Doctor, I want to impart some wisdom that would have helped me sleep better and that I hope helps you do just that. My wisdom: don’t overextend yourself. I think I have historically struggled with sleep during my time in post-secondary education because I overloaded my docket. I was in too many clubs, too many classes, and held a few too many jobs at one point. I understand the excitement of being in a new environment with many opportunities can make us eager to take on as much as we can but take on less than your eagerness thinks you can handle. We often forget to calculate for downtime, or at least that’s what I did. I forgot I needed to take breaks, exercise, and sleep into consideration when filling my schedule with activities. I’ve been paying the price, unknowingly for a few years now, even though I just now noticed the effects. I know I may sound like a killjoy, but please remember that health really is wealth! Inevitably there will be times when you have to stay up later to complete an assignment or deal with an emergency, but if something isn’t an emergency or a requirement, consider going to bed. Nobody will pay your sleep debt for you.

Although sleep kinda sucks because we can’t do the activities that we want, it’s so valuable for exactly that reason. In our waking life, our bodies are bombarded with all sorts of stimuli and called upon to respond. Thus leaving our bodies no time to repair damaged tissue and little opportunity to consolidate new information into our memory to recall later. Sleeping allows our bodies the opportunity and energy to do the “behind the scenes work” for all of our bodily functions to run smoothly; that may include having the stamina to learn new information (which is why you’re at school, may I remind you), the social battery to make friends, and even the approachable aura to meet possible romantic interests. So, if you wanna stay on your grindset, enjoy your gains, and not scare the hoes, get to bed. I’ll let you know how my sleep study goes.

Works Cited

Axelsson, J., et al. “Beauty Sleep: Experimental Study on the Perceived Health and Attractiveness of Sleep Deprived People.” BMJ, vol. 341, no. dec14 2, 14 Dec. 2010, pp. c6614–c6614, 10.1136/bmj.c6614.

Breus, Dr Michael. “How to Sleep Better.” The Sleep Doctor, thesleepdoctor.com/sleep-hygiene/how-to-sleep-better/. Accessed 16 Aug. 2022.

Cappello, Kelly. “The Impact of Sleep on Learning and Memory |  Chronobiology and Sleep Institute | Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.” Www.med.upenn.edu, 21 Dec. 2020, www.med.upenn.edu/csi/the-impact-of-sleep-on-learning-and-memory.html.

“Ep. 233: How to Get Your Beauty Sleep with Dr. Michael Breus.” FAT MASCARA, www.fatmascara.com/blog/2020/9/17/ep-233-how-to-get-your-beauty-sleep-with-dr-michael-breus. Accessed 16 Aug. 2022.Epstein, Lawrence. “Sleep and Mood | Need Sleep.” Healthysleep.med.harvard.edu, 15 Dec. 2008, healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood.

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