Shankweiler Scholars host sleep seminar

Shelley Hershner, M.D., discussed the consequences of a lack of sleep on the body.

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Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Office of Communications. Dr. Shelley Hershner talks to the crowd.

On Mar. 2, Shelley Hershner, M.D., associate professor at University of Michigan Medical School, gave a lecture on the importance of sleep. The lecture was hosted by the Shankweiler Scholars program, an honors program focused on pre-health students. The majority of the lecture was based on her medical knowledge as a sleep neurologist to give students a better understanding of the consequences of a lack of sleep and how to improve poor sleep habits. According to Hershner, a lack of sleep is usually defined as sleeping less than seven to nine hours. There are four main aspects of life that are impacted by a lack of sleep: learning, obesity, mood and accidents. 

When it comes to learning, a lack of sleep has been shown to be the third biggest barrier to academic performance. Not having enough sleep can significantly hurt memory and brain processing. In fact, Hershner mentioned that pulling an all-nighter to study for a test will most likely result in a worse test score than going to bed instead of studying. After outlining how sleep deprivation hurts learning, Hershner gave a few tips on how to prevent a lack of sleep from hurting academic performance. First, she suggests that students try to keep a consistent sleep schedule; sleep inconsistency can result in high levels of hormones and neurotransmitters that decrease academic performance. Secondly, she told students to take a nap, but only if it did not make it harder to fall asleep at night. Her final recommendation for students struggling academically due to sleep deprivation was to adopt the motto that some “sleep is better than no sleep.” Even if it is just two or three hours, it can significantly improve academic performance. 

The next area she focused on was the relationship between sleep deprivation and nutrition. According to Hershner, sleep deprivation causes satiety hormones to decrease and hunger hormones to increase, irrespective of the amount of food consumed. In addition to getting enough sleep to academically perform well, Hershner urged students to get enough sleep to make sure that their bodies were getting the right amount of nutrition and energy, with a lack of sleep resulting in bigger health problems.

I always knew that sleep was very important, but learning about the detrimental effects of having a lack of sleep really showed me how important it is to have a consistent sleep schedule.”

Anonymous student

The last two parts of her lecture focused on the relationship between sleep and mood and sleep and accidents. According to Hershner, the inability to sleep increases the risk of depression by 200 percent and an insufficient amount of sleep increases the risk of depression by 140 percent. The mental health issues that arise from a lack of sleep are especially problematic because of their far-reaching effects like poor appetite, sleep and motivation, which can further harm academic performance and result in a worse sleep quality. That lack of sleep can also result in an increased risk of car accidents. Hershner discussed this, saying that a driver who has insufficient sleep has the same impairment as someone who is driving drunk. Being sleep deprived significantly impairs awareness and reaction time.

…while Hershner did have some good points, I can’t see myself actually implementing any of the suggestions she gave. My life is simply too busy to balance everything while getting a sufficient amount of sleep.

Esther Klinger ‘25

Hershner ended her lecture giving students tips on how to help improve poor sleep. Her first suggestion was to improve your sleep environment. This can include having white noise, earplugs, a dark room and making sure the space is at a cool temperature before going to sleep. Another suggestion she had was to limit screen exposure prior to falling asleep. While most phones have a night mode, “studies have shown they are practically useless.” According to Hershner, even shutting off your phone ten minutes before going to bed can make a big difference. The last suggestion she gave was to limit caffeine intake. Having caffeine after 11 a.m. can prevent necessary sleep hormones from being released on time, causing insomnia and poor sleep quality. 

Students had mixed responses to the lecture. Esther Klinger ‘25 responded saying, “I found the sleep lecture to be very interesting, and while Hershner did have some good points, I can’t see myself actually implementing any of the suggestions she gave. My life is simply too busy to balance everything while getting a sufficient amount of sleep.” 

One anonymous student was glad to have attended the lecture, saying  “I always knew that sleep was very important, but learning about the detrimental effects of having a lack of sleep really showed me how important it is to have a consistent sleep schedule.”

Matthew '24 is a philosophy and political thought major on the pre-law track.

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