concentration techniques 7
How long do you need to sleep each night? That is a matter for each individual to determine, but most people need to sleep seven to nine hours out of every twenty-four. You probably know how much you need to feel at your peak. Insufficient sleep can produce unpleasant effects, from loss of memory to muscular weakness. Experiments on sleep deprivation conducted at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center have shown the following:
1. After prolonged visual activity, the eyes tend to wander; we call this effect visual attention fatigue.
2. Brief periods of extreme drowsiness occur between midnight and dawn, and these interrupt any chain of mental operations.
3. Acquisition of new information is impaired.
4. A person “listening to a conversation may progressively lose his grasp of the situation, being dimly aware that people are talking but not of what they are saying. During this time, he is unable to comprehend the real situation, and he confuses external and internal events.”
What conclusion can we draw from these observations? Obviously, it is that prolonged wakefulness, as in staying up all night to study, seriously impairs mental processes. You can’t stay up all night and expect to function well the next day. A regular day-night rhythm is essential to health. If you normally are awake during the daytime and early evening, it would be difficult for you to go to bed at either 3 P.M. or 3 A.M. The mind and body come to depend on a stable rhythm of waking and sleeping, Changing your schedule disrupts you both physically and mentally, a statement that is borne out by scientific investigation. So if you normally go to bed at midnight, do so regularly. Otherwise you will have to pay the price.
Some students get so tense during the day that they are still tense when they go to bed. Then they have trouble going to sleep. This is especially true of very sensitive people who carry their arguments, their defeats, and their disappointments in their minds, playing and replaying the episodes over and over again. These replays simply heighten your feelings and emotions, causing you to get keyed up even more, and this stress-reaction may carryover into the night. Here is the way Dr. Hans Selye explains it:
Keep in mind that the hormones produced during acute stress are meant to alarm you and key you up for peak-accomplishments. They tend to combat sleep and to promote alertness during short periods of exertion; they are not meant to be used all day long. If too much of these hormones are circulating in your blood, they will keep you awake, just as a tablet of ephedrine would. (Incidentally, ephedrine is chemically related to adrenaline.) Your insomnia has a chemical basis, which cannot easily be talked away after it has developed; and at night in bed it is too late to prevent it from developing. Is there anything you can do about insomnia? The ideal, of course, is to avoid getting into those super-stress situations in the first place. But if you are already in bed and you just can’t sleep, try this advice from Professor Walter Rudolf Hess, Swiss mental specialist and Nobel Prize winner:
If you cannot sleep, resign yourself to it, arrange your limbs comfortably and enjoy the feeling of their relaxed heaviness. Occupy your mind with pleasant thoughts and memories, without worrying about the passage of time. Then sleep, too, will come.
This recipe is short, but it is distilled from years and years of experience with insomniacs. Notice that he does not say, “Go to bed determined to fall asleep.” Rather he says, “Accept the fact that you don’t and possibly won’t fall asleep, but be comfortable in the meantime. Enjoy the physical feeling of rest, and give your mind the pleasure of pleasant thoughts.” This is the simplest, most direct prescription that I have encountered. Try it, but gently.
Conclusion. It is reasonable to conclude that when we deprive ourselves of sleep in order to study, we enter into a losing game for at least two reasons: first, with thinking disorganized and memory impaired, very little if anything can be really learned and retained during the study process. Second, with little or no sleep, when we attend class for recitation or examination the following day we arrive incapable of performing even adequately either mentally or physically. In summary, here are three things you can do to improve your studies and your health.
1. Get enough sleep — seven to nine hours a night.
2. Have a regular bedtime.
3. If you can’t get to sleep, at least rest, relax, and think pleasant thoughts.