Sleep and the collegiate brain

Seawolf SlugIn the year 2013, an alien brain slug from one of the galaxy’s most feared empires crash-landed on Earth and assumed control of a lowly reporter at this newspaper. These are his stories.

A new semester is starting, and regular readers of this column know what that means: sleep issues!


George is currently typing this at 2 in the morning. He clearly wants to go to sleep earlier, seeing as he’s waking up pretty early for classes, but he’s stuck going to sleep at 2 or 3 a.m. It usually self-adjusts once the semester properly gets into full swing, but it’s still stressful whenever the pressure of a new semester is building.

This is a pretty big problem when it comes to college students, because they can spend so much time in the late hours of the night cramming in studies. And that’s straight-up unhealthy. I’ve mentioned this several times in the column, and truth be told, I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified to do so. We brain slugs are so different from life here on Earth. We don’t need to sleep; all of our information and energy is obtained by the species we enslave. That’s just the way we function. But all life on Earth differs from that.

They need sleep in order to survive. Perhaps the function of sleep most relevant to college students is its effects on memorization. The brain does a much better job of retaining and recalling memories after a good long nap. It shuts down its interaction with the outside world and sorts everything out whilst you’re not aware. I don’t think enough students grasp the concept that studying is made a lot easier with this in mind. Studying for a bit and then taking a nap is one of the best things you can do before an exam. But it serves other purposes, too. Sleeping helps immensely with healing wounds, improving the immune system, metabolism, growth — it’s enough to make me wonder why we slugs don’t do it.

Oh right. The whole “controlling other species” thing. Duh.

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But that brings me back to this current conundrum: Why can’t my host go to bed before 2? He makes an effort to climb in, but he just ends up either staring at the ceiling or at his phone. He’s wide awake, and he doesn’t feel the need to before a certain time. This is the concept of the biological sleep schedule at its cruelest. Over vacations, George really lets himself go in terms of time awake, and he often stays up very late into the night. And since he has no real need to wake up before, say, noon, what’s to stop him from going to bed at 3 a.m.?

And thus, the brain adapts to this new schedule. According to George’s biological clock, 1 a.m. is no longer “sleep” time. It is “another hour playing ‘Civilization’” time. After a period of time, the brain just throws its hands in the air and says, “Screw it. He’s not going to sleep. We may as well play along.”

That’s a problem when the semester starts back up, because he has to start waking up at 7 in the morning to prepare for school. During the first few weeks back, the brain still thinks 7 a.m. is “sleep” time, and that leaves George immensely groggy. But then the brain starts adapting, and the biological clock winds back a few hours until he’s going to bed at a reasonable hour again.

But I know you, reader. You’re a life-hacker. You want to wake up at a reasonable hour now, not when the easy first week of classes starts up. Well, it wouldn’t be a proper Seawolf Slug column without some self-help tips. So here goes. First off is the all-important alarm clock app. As much as it makes George want to throw his phone at the wall in the morning, this is a marvelous technology when it comes to changing your biological clock. Its loud noises and vibrations trick the brain into being alert against its own will, thereby setting a new beginning period for “sleep” time.

This is reinforced by an early breakfast. In the primitive days before civilization, humans would wake up at a certain time because they knew food was available at that time. They knew 7 a.m. was the time to go hunting, so instinctually, that’s where the biological clock would set its alarm. Thankfully, this instinct is intact today, and by grabbing a bite to eat right after you wake up, it further reinforces your new biological schedule.

After about a week of that, you should be set to get enough sleep for your studies. And with that, I think it’s time to force George back into bed.

We brain slugs appreciate a nice, organized brain. So keep it that way!