Issues



January, 2015 Issue

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Real Life On Campus - You Are Getting Sleepy!

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BY ELAINE PASQUA

You Are Getting Sleepy!

Do you need gallons of coffee to get going in the morning? Are you fuzzy during the day or feel irritable? Getting to bed too late or not getting enough sleep can lead to lower grades and an increase in dropped classes. College students are averaging 6 to 6.9 hours of sleep per night. This is less than what is recommended for sleep's restorative benefits.

Those who get ample sleep are more productive, think quickly and more clearly, and are more creative. Sleep not only rests the brain but it allows it to perform important maintenance and restoration. Sleep is essential to restore the body's energy. It strengthens the immune system, helps us to think more clearly and creatively, and strengthens memory. Sleep improves our mood, and helps us perform better throughout the day.

Lack of sleep is associated with an increase in illnesses, as our ability to fight off infection become more difficult. Obesity is also connected to less sleep. The hormone that reduces appetite is decreased and we see an increase in the hormone that increases craving for high-calorie foods.

College students are at risk for experiencing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. When they are sleep deprived, they feel more stress. Many researchers believe that lack of sleep is a contributing factor. Sleep deprivation can also negatively affect your personal relationships. You might find that you have difficulty focusing on something someone has to say. You can become more irritable or quick to anger because quality of communication is reduced. Sleep is crucial for memory retention. When you sleep your brain organizes, sorts, and stores all of the information that you learned in class during the day into long-term memory. It also helps you weed out irrelevant information. Students are known for pulling all-nighters but studies show that they do not perform as well. Study a little each day and the natural process of sleep will help you to gain a better understanding of the material. You will also retain information better. If you find you have an academic challenge, study that material right before you go to bed. Sleeping on it will help with greater retention and understanding.

Drowsy driving leads to an increase in car accidents. In fact, 18 to 24 year old drivers have a considerably higher rate of late night crashes. Fatigue and sleepiness are often to blame. If you feel tired before you drive, take a nap. Drive with a friend who will help to keep you awake, keep the car cooler, and play good tunes. If you feel like you are really tired, pull off the road and find a safe place to sleep.

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So what can you do to improve your sleep hygiene for quality sleep and overall well-being? Strive to get between 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Most importantly, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day of the week. This can be challenging for a college student, especially on weekends, but it will put your body on a consistent rhythm or clock. If you nap during the day, sleep for only 15 minutes so it will not interfere with your sleep at night.

Avoid exercising within 4 hours of your bedtime. Don't drink stimulants like caffeine, nicotine or alcohol close to bedtime. Chocolate has caffeine as well. Eating late can be disruptive to a good nights' sleep, so try to eat larger meals earlier in the evening. Try to avoid upsetting conversations close to bedtime and don't dwell on your problems as you go to bed.

Exercise is important to promote a good nights' sleep. It is best to engage in vigorous exercise in the late afternoon or at least four hours before you go to bed. Yoga, which is more relaxing, can be done later and can help you sleep.

Try to get adequate exposure to natural light each day. Exposure to light promotes a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Artificial light from your electrical devices can interfere with your ability to fall and stay asleep. Shut off all electrical devices including your computer and cell phone at least a half hour before you go to bed. Your room should be comfortable temperature and it should be dark and quiet.

It could take some adjustments to find just the right sleep-wake cycle for you. If you experience sleep disturbances or find that you are sleepy during the day, change your cycle. Once you settle into a routine you will feel the difference and it will be worth the effort.

Sweet dreams!

Questions on college life? Email me at elaine@elainepasqua.com.