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Are You Getting Enough ZZZs?
Do college students get enough sleep? Why should we?
How many times has the guy sitting next to you in English had to give you a shove to wake you up for class? If this sounds like you, then you might be one out of three people in America that gets six or fewer hours of sleep per night. Even then, the quality of this sleep may be questionable.
Whether you're burning the midnight oil by studying for an exam, or just socializing with friends -- getting enough sleep is of major importance to your body, affecting everything from weight gain to concentration abilities. Skimping by on just a few hours of sleep can put your body into a compromising health situation. Your immune system will suffer, leading to more colds and infections, your ability to repair muscle and other body tissues is slowed, and your brain's ability to store complex memory and concentrate during class will suffer.
What Keeps Me From Sleeping?
College students cite many reasons for not being able to sleep.
- Late night cramming for exams
- Consuming too much caffeine, nicotine or other stimulants
- Noisy roommates
- Everyday worries or anxiety
- Lighting conditions
- An irregular work schedule
- Too much late night partying - excessive use of alcohol
Whatever the reason for your sleep loss, it is important to recognize what the particular reason is for you and take steps to correct it and move towards a healthy sleep lifestyle. Correcting these situations may be as simple as placing dark curtains over windows or having a heart to heart conversation with your noisy roommates.
Am I Sleep Deprived?
- Do you find it increasingly difficult to concentrate in class?
- Do you feel tired during the daylight hours?
- Is it difficult for you to fall asleep at night?
- Do you need an alarm clock to wake up?
- Do you feel the urge to nap during the day?
- Do you drink caffeinated beverages to "get going" in the mornings?
- Are you too tired to exercise most of the time?
- Do you fall asleep easily when sitting for periods of 20 minutes or more watching television, reading or listening to lectures?
- Do you feel irritable or sluggish during the day?
- Have you noticed an increased number of cold or flu-like symptoms?
How Can I Improve My Sleep?
Good quality sleep is just as important as how long you sleep. There are several sleep stages that you enter throughout the night. Some stages include light sleep, like R.E.M. sleep. Your body and your brain engage in different activities during the different stages. This is why waking too early can leave you feeling just as tired as you did when you first fell asleep. You should try to schedule at least 7 to 8 hours per day that you can sleep. Some people will need more than this, some less. The best way to find out how much sleep you need is to sleep without an alarm clock for a week or so. Soon your body will adjust to its own schedule for sleep and will recover from lost sleep. When this happens, you will know how many hours you actually need to sleep per day. For some, that number might be 6 hours; for others, up to 10 hours per day is normal.
Tips for a Healthy Sleep Lifestyle
- Go to bed and arise about the same time every day (+/- one hour); establishing a schedule helps regulate your body's inner clock and rhythm. Never oversleep because of a poor night's sleep. Sleeping late for just a couple of days can reset your body clock to a different cycle -- you'll be getting sleepy later and waking up later.
- Make sure your bedroom is comfortable, from lighting conditions to room temperature (no higher than 75 degrees).
- Use a fan for white noise if you cannot control the noise around your room, or use earplugs.
- Only use your bed for sleeping. Refrain from using your bed to watch TV, pay bills, do work or reading, so that your body associates sleeping with going to bed. Snuggling is an exception.
- Avoid daytime napping as it may further fragment your sleep rhythm. If you are too tired, limit your nap to less than an hour, prior to 3 p.m.
- Get enough exercise - 30 minutes at least 4 times per week.
- Do not exercise within 4 hours of bedtime. Exercise is a natural body stimulant.
- Avoid eating large meals within 3 hours of bedtime. Your body will work on digesting the food instead of letting you rest. If hungry, try a light bedtime snack of milk, cheese, or peanut butter. These foods may induce sleep.
- Don't eat late evening meals or drink large quantities of liquids in the evening.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages and nicotine for several hours before your regular bedtime.
- Avoid excessive use of alcohol. It may make you feel sleepy, but it actually disrupts the natural sleep cycle and will wake you up.
- Take a warm shower or bath.
- Turn your clock to the wall so that you are not episodically looking at it and doing math on how long you have been awake and how soon you must arise.
- If you have had a pattern of thinking too much after getting in bed, have a quiet time before getting in bed to review the day and plan the morrow...make a to-do list or write in a journal so you can let go of these things before getting in bed.
- Read a book, or some other calm activity that relaxes you. Creating a relaxing ritual can help your body slow down in preparation for sleep.
- Don't panic if you cannot fall asleep or stay asleep. Worrying about losing sleep will only keep you awake. Remember that for a short while, the loss of sleep is not dangerous.
- If you do not fall asleep within 15-30 minutes, get out of bed and read, watch TV, or listen to music. Return to bed when you feel sleepy. If you do not fall asleep within 15 minutes this time, do the same thing again. Repeat this until you fall asleep promptly. This can be a pretty tough regimen for a few nights, but it can break the mental association of bed with lying awake and worrying rather than falling asleep quickly.
- Try some relaxation techniques such as the CAPS Online Relaxation Exercises.
- In the morning, use sunlight to set your biological clock (this links to your melatonin system). As soon as you get up on a sunny morning, go outside and turn your face to the sun for 15 minutes.