If you don't have sleeping problems, you probably know someone who does. Up to 60% of all college students suffer from poor sleep quality, and 7.7% meet all criteria for an insomnia disorder. Sleep problems have a great impact on students' daily life. Those that experience sleeping disturbances have poorer declarative and procedural learning, neurocognitive performance and academic success, according to a study in Sleep Medicine Reviews in 2006.
This is an issue that is clearly affecting many, many college students. College students should get about seven to nine hours of sleep, according to many sleep specialists. Not only is the length of sleep important, but also sleep latency, sleep efficiency, wake after sleep onset, and REM latency.
Sleep latency is how long it takes to go from "lights out" to asleep. Sleep efficiency is the total time in bed compared to time spent sleeping. Wake after sleep onset is the amount of time you wake up in the middle of the night before actually waking up. Wake time after sleep offset accounts for long periods of wakefulness after an unusual early morning awakening. Lastly, REM latency is the time between sleep onset and REM sleep. A good night's rest is a combination of enough hours of sleep and quality sleep patterns.
Getting a good night's sleep can make students feel like they can tackle everything on their plate. But that's not the only reason to get enough sleep. Teens and college students who fit in seven to eight hours of sleep every night are more likely to see many benefits.
A better grade point average is the most strongly correlated positive effect. Research conducted at the University of Georgia found that one in four students surveyed reported that sleep deprivation negatively impacted their grades and in some cases, resulting in the need to withdraw from a course entirely.
Better memory is also a huge one. High school and college students need to process tons of new information daily during their waking hours. That information is then sorted and organized by the brain during sleep cycles. The more sleep students get, the more efficient their brain is at retaining important information and setting aside things that are irrelevant.
Lowered risk of obesity has also been shown as connected to more sleep. When students are sleep deprived, the body produces more ghrelin, the "hunger hormone." This hormone stimulates appetite and promotes fat storage. As a result, your boy craves high-calorie foods. But the chances of weight gain associated with lack of sleep don't end there. Sleep increases leptin levels in the body, a hormone designed to curb appetite.
Students who are sleep deprived are more likely to get sick because their immune systems aren't functioning at the most optimal level. During sleep, the body releases proteins called cytokines, which are needed when you have an infection or are under stress. If you're chronically sleep deprived, cytokine production is reduced and your body also releases fewer antibodies, which makes you more susceptible to viruses. Lack of sleep also affects recovery time so when you do get a cold or the flu, it'll take you longer to get over it.
Good sleep leads to mental well-being. Even just one night of disturbed sleep or not enough sleep can make students feel moody, irritable, sad, and sluggish the next day. Prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to more serious mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
What can you do to avoid the negative consequences of sleep deprivation? The first recommendation is to take proper, and limited, naps. Dr. Aneesa Das, MD, and Assistant Direction of The Ohio State Sleep Disorders Center, says to avoid naps if you can, but if you need to, do it before 4pm, and naps should be no more than 20-30 minutes to avoid the groggy feeling that occurs when you're awakened suddenly during your sleep cycle.
Avoid afternoon caffeine is also crucial. Avoid coffee and other caffeinated drinks after about 4 pm in the afternoon or earlier. Caffeine ca impact sleep for up to eight hours after students drink it because it increases brain wave activity. Even if you're ac=le to fall asleep during this time, it will be lighter and less restorative than it should be.
This may be hard for many college students, but make sure that you create a general sleep pattern schedule to make sure your body clock has some regularity. People can handle an hour's difference from day to day, but staying up all night, even just one night, and then sleeping all the next day can mess up your body clock and throw you off for over a week. "There are clock genes in every organ, and they need to remain coordinated for the immune system, hormonal systems, heart, lungs, brain, etc. to function optimally and to repair damage from the preceding wake period," Dr. Ann Romaker, Associate Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the UC College of Medicine, and Director of the University of Cincinnati Sleep Medicine Center.
This is a tough one for most teens and young adults but sleep specialist Dr. Whitney Roban says students should stop using electronic devices at least an hour before going to bed. "The blue light emitted from electronics tricks your brain into thinking it's daytime and your body decreases the amount of melatonin it secretes, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep," she explains.
Some students say the soft sounds of a television helps them fall asleep. That may be true but having the TV on does nothing for the quality of your sleep. As programs change or go in and out of commercials, there are variations in audio. You might not be fully awake during this time and may not even wake up at all, but these small variations can affect overall sleep quality.
Students who suffer from insomnia may want to consider seeing a doctor to discuss sleep medications like zaleplon, zolpidem, eszopiclone, and doxepin. These medications improve your sleep/wake cycle, making a better night's sleep more possible. If you prefer a more natural approach, supplements like magnesium, calcium, and melatonin may help combat sleep problems.
While there are many sleep medications out there, this should definitely be the last resort for college students, in order to avoid medication dependence.