It's that time of the year again: collegiettes everywhere are flocking to their campus libraries in hoards, all while consuming more caffeine than they have all year, forgetting how to dress (or eat, or sleep), and doing pretty much nothing but studying. That, and Netflix.
As you head into exam season this year, you're likely to pull a couple of all-nighters, which we all know completely mess with our sleep cycles. One day you're studying until three in the morning—only to find that you're not up and out of bed until 4 p.m., which means that falling asleep at a regular hour probably isn't going to happen. No big deal, pop a Benadryl and you've reset your clock, right? Well, a new study shows evidence that using sleep aids on a regular basis could cause mental health problems. According to research headed by Dr. Shelly Gray at the University of Washington's School of Pharmacy, long term use of drugs classified as anticholinergic (which includes common over-the-counter sleep aids, some antidepressants and allergy relief drugs like Benadryl) has been linked to an increased risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease later in life. The troubling new facts show that there is indeed a significant correlation—and the effects may persist long after the person stops taking these medications.
Now we must stress that these findings don't mean that if you take an occassional sedative to help you get much-needed sleep, you're going to end up with a debilitating illness. These findings mainly pertain to habitual users. This news may be a wake-up call to just one of the many disadvantages to using chemicals to aid your beauty sleep (grogginess the next morning, building up a tolerance to the drug, developing a dependency on unnatural means of rest, among others). Instead, our prescription is preventative: don't leave all your work for the night before it's due, and upend your sleep schedule. Aside from the negative effects all-nighters have on your health, studies have shown that cramming doesn't work—it has a lot to do with how our memory serves us. And if you must stay up all night, we suggest that you keep your caffeine intake down to a bare minimum, because research also suggests that particular drug isn't good for you either. In the end, the key thing to take away from this study is that sleep is valuable, necessary for life, and most importantly, easily disruptable by our stressful and hectic lives. So strive for a good sleep pattern because the alternative isn't so glamorous.