Sleep: we all do it, need it, love it and wish we had more of it. Being college students who are involved in school and extracurricular and social activities, we often put sleep at the bottom of our list of priorities. However, though we usually think about our time awake far more than our time asleep, the way we sleep is just as vital as what we do in our waking hours. Knowing more about sleep and how to make the most of it can positively affect our daily lives.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation:
During practically any time of the day, most college students are sleepy enough to fall asleep in less than five minutes! Many of us think it is normal to be sleepy during certain activities, but the truth is, if you are getting enough sleep, you should be able to stay alert all day no matter what you are doing, even if you are in CIV or Chem lecture. A person's daily need for sleep is determined by how much sleep a person needs in order to maintain the same level of alertness that he or she had the day before, and is usually from 8 to 10 hours a night. Sleep deprivation occurs when people do not get their daily need for sleep, and accumulates into what is called a sleep debt. This sleep debt can be one hour or hundreds of hours, and it keeps on building up as long as a person is not getting his or her daily sleep requirements. The harms of a large sleep debt include: impaired performance in daily activities and a really strong desire to sleep, even at the worst times (such as while driving or trying to write that term paper). Benefits of adequate sleep are feeling energetic and on top of things all day. The only thing that can reduce the sleep debt is getting more than your daily need for sleep.
Another factor that affects our sleep wake cycles is the function of the biological clock. Biological rhythms follow patterns during the day that are fairly standard for all people: a strong wake alerting in the morning, a dip in the early afternoon (making us want to snooze after lunch), and another strong alerting period at the beginning of the night (getting us geared for a big party night or a long night of studying!)
Good Sleep Hygiene:
There are many ways that we can improve our sleep. One of the simplest is to have good sleep hygiene. This is a good way to get better sleep, plus be healthier in general. The six components of good sleep hygiene are:
1) Having a good setting for sleep. Try to make bedtime a quiet time, and reserve your bed for just sleeping in.
2) Sleep regularity. Keeping regular hours will not only train your body to be more alert when you wake up, but will also help you to manage your time better.
3) Synchrony. This is knowing when your biological clock is alerting you or making you sleepy, and planning naps and scheduling certain events accordingly. This is also knowing if you are a morning or a night person and not fighting your natural tendencies.
4) Total amount of sleep. This is the most important factor for obvious reasons. If you get your optimal amount of sleep, you should be able to stay alert all day. What a concept.
5) Good health in general. Proper diet, exercise and sleep go hand in hand.
6) Avoid drugs that would affect the sleep wake-cycle. Common drugs that affect our sleep are alcohol (which may make us sleepy early in the night, then wake us up in the middle of the night), caffeine, and sleeping pills (unless you have a legitimate sleeping problem).
Another thing to keep in mind in respect to the biological clock is that it is more important to get up than go to sleep at the same time everyday. So if you have that big paper due, it's better for your clock if you stay up late and get up at the same time. Also, if you know you have a tough week coming up, plan to get more sleep the week before so that your body is better equipped to handle the shock it's going to get. Napping is a good way to cut down on your sleep debt, but remember that napping in the early evening may keep you up later at night, canceling the benefits of the nap.
There are also certain sleep disorders that can affect us even if we are getting our nine hours of sleep. Almost everyone has experienced insomnia of some kind. It is important to remember that insomnia is often a symptom of a larger psychological or physical problem. If insomnia is persistent (lasting longer than three weeks), it may be a good idea to talk to a doctor to figure out the underlying cause. Sleep apnea occurs when a person stops breathing during the night and may have to wake up hundreds of times to get a breath a night, and never know about it. People with sleep apnea usually are very sleep deprived, snore, have high blood pressure, and are men. Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder where people are very sleepy and also have temporary muscle paralysis attacks in stressful situations. If you think you might be experiencing any of these, talk to your doctor and explicitly say that the problem you are experiencing you believe is related to sleep.
Our relationship with sleep does not have to be a struggle. The most important thing is knowing what our bodies need in order to get the most out of our time awake. Though it may be difficult thing to change our entrenched poor sleep habits, the benefits of good sleep are well worth the effort.
Resources and Help:
Cowell Student Health Center: 723-4843
Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic: 723-6601
ASDA (American Sleep Disorders Association):
The Balance Beam is sponsored by The Bridge 24-hour Peer Counseling Center (3-3392), Cowell Student Health Center, and the Publications Board.