Look out, world. I’m about to tell you something you already know: you need sleep. Your heart needs rest, your limbs need rest, your eyes need rest, and your brain ESPECIALLY needs rest. This supercomputer we all have nestled between our ears is constantly running thousands of trillions of operations per second, but it can’t do it without breaks. Without rest, these things that operate our bodies and, depending on your beliefs, our consciousness can start glitching, and those glitches can be anywhere from funny to mind-numbingly horrific.
Romper, a website targeted towards millennials entering adulthood, gave a list of 7 things that happen to your brain when you’re exhausted & need sleep. The things included go from impaired emotional regulation (essentially, cranky because you need a nap) to your brain shrinking and brain cells dying. While I don’t know how well my brain mass has been retained over the years, I do know that I’ve personally experienced all of the other side effects. I’ve hallucinated horrifying faces staring at me during fits of insomnia, lost my temper over tiny and otherwise unimportant events, remembered events that never took place, said things that I knew I shouldn’t have, and experienced my thought processes slowing down the more tired I become.
While all of these are pretty intense, the last one typically has the farthest-reaching consequences for those of us who are still students. College courses especially tend to run us down quickly, with the unending stream of homework and studying causing late nights and early mornings year-round. Personally, the first half of every semester is my best work. By midterms I rarely have grades lower than 90%, but after that it’s anyone’s guess. Sometimes I keep my stride, and sometimes I break down and have my grade drop to anywhere from 89% to 60% (though in recent years I’ve managed to keep my minimums to an 80%). This is not a coincidence. Over the summer, those who don’t need to work or take extra classes manage to catch up on their rest, allowing them to fling themselves into the fall semester with gusto. But as the semester drags on, we find ourselves unable to sleep as long or restfully as during the summer, so our brains get incrementally more and more tired.
Even free time, when our brains don’t have to work quite as hard and can recharge just a bit, tends to disappear. Time spent in nature has been proven to improve concentration and increase creativity, so it seems safe to say that it’s good for our brains as a whole – but aside from studying in a park, there are few ways for the busiest students to make time for that. Reading, writing, and other forms of art provide means of relaxing through action, keeping up our momentum, but we often find ourselves in academic and professional careers that mirror our interests. For example, I love writing in my free time, but that also happens to be what I plan on doing for my career. There are days when I’ve written so much during my time at WonderLab that I can’t write again for the rest of the week without it feeling like work.
We tend to find ways to spend our time in places that are purely fun and don’t make us think of work. Unfortunately, some of these escapes take us too far from our work and the lines of thought we need to concentrate on. For example, I am an avid gamer and lover of Star Wars. I have yet to have most of the information I’ve picked up about these topics come in handy for my classes, which is one of the reasons they make such good escapes. They’re entirely separate and allow me to fully rest the parts of my mind that are stressed about school and work, and that’s a good thing – until it’s not. Because they’re so far removed from my areas of study, switching back into “study” gear from “gaming” gear is immensely difficult. So while they allow me to rest, they don’t make solid platforms for jumping back onto the grind.
Finding something that both allows you to relax and allows you to keep your mind working the way it needs to is immensely difficult, but it’s one of the reasons I love WonderLab so much. I volunteered here for years back in high school and when it came time for me to try and find ways to make my writing skills marketable, it seemed a natural place to return to. It’s an even mix of fun and learning which allows me to take breaks when needed without letting the mental muscles I’ve been working out go flabby. They’ve recently started events called Study Breaks which are specifically geared towards students who need to rest but remain focused, and I’ve enjoyed each one I’ve been to!
In short, my friends: relax, because cramming will break you – just not so much that you lose all momentum!
Samuel Zlotnick is 23 years old and is a self-described “scifi/fantasy geek”. He is an intern at WonderLab in its Marketing/PR department which he feels will compliment his eventual Bachelor’s Degree in Professional & Technical Writing. He’s looking forward to a respite from his study efforts during the next Study Break on Saturday, April 28, 2018.