Will this be on the test? Students need 8 hours of sleep for good health

On the first day of class I have my students count off by twos. I only meet that class twice a week, so we rotate assignments. The even-numbered students have to stay awake for the entire lecture on Tuesdays, and the odd numbered students on Thursdays. In addition, those who are awake are responsible for awakening me if I doze off.

I ask some of those who are awake to nod understandingly at appropriate intervals so that I will continue my lecture. If they fail to do this, I assume they do not understand a concept, and I feel compelled to repeat myself. This makes the student’s task of staying awake even more daunting. Lastly, those who are awake get to choose who will laugh at my jokes that day.

I let them organize themselves for these tasks. After all, they need to learn how to take personal responsibility and work in groups. Meanwhile, the other half of the class is free to sleep that day, but they will assume the above responsibilities on Thursdays. This may sound a little strange, but it is better than all the students sleeping on both days.

College students tend to not get enough sleep. They have busy schedules involving: clubs, sports, girls, rehearsals, parties, guys, trips home, socializing, girls, eating, drinking, guys, recreation, weekends, part-time jobs, girls, student government, Frisbee, guys, intramurals, skateboarding, all-nighters, class and girls.

They desperately need class-time sleep to maintain their health.

You have little amoeba in your bloodstream that scamper around eating bacteria and stuff. It’s kind of creepy. Amoeba in ponds munching down on bacteria and dead organic material are one thing, but in the bloodstream it seems gross. Anyway, their job is to clean up any dead cells and stuff, and to gobble up invading organisms.

There are two kinds of these cells in the body. The neutrophil is restricted to the bloodstream. The macrophages are huge, monstrous cells (as cells go) that can be found throughout the body. Macrophages can eat their own weight (which I admit is not much) in foreign invaders every 24 hours.

If you are a Streptococcus bacteria, this is the last thing you want to meet up with in a dark capillary somewhere.

These cells are your first line of defense against foreign invaders and disease agents. If they don’t function well, the invaders can multiply, and you end up sick.

Interestingly, both of these cells require sleep. Well, I don’t know if the cells actually sleep or not. In fact, I’m not sure what a sleeping cell looks like. But if you don’t get enough sleep, these invader-gobbling cells don’t work too well.

These cells work best after the person to whom they belong has gotten eight hours of sleep. More sleep than that does not seem to increase their activity. However, as little as one hour less, or seven hours of sleep, will reduce their job efficiency by at least 10 percent. With only six hours of sleep, the efficiency drops to around 50 percent of normal.

Luckily, the efficiency of these cells doesn’t drop much below 50 percent with less than six hours of sleep. So most college students are still about 50 percent healthy. Well, unless they were to lack sleep for several days in a row, in which case the efficiency can decline even more. That usually happens only on weekends though. If they don’t get enough sleep Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, you can see why they need class time on either Tuesdays or Thursdays.

Don’t most normal people (it is assumed that student life is abnormal) get eight hours of sleep or more each night? Therefore, thankfully, most of us are at little risk of having depressed immune systems. The end of the semester is approaching, so I may just let them all sleep on that last Thursday. 

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor of biology at Colorado Mesa University.


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