Catching Z’s or getting C’s?

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By: Jeweliana Register

Between late night study sessions and Netflix binges, sleep is something that college students often neglect. Sleep is necessary to function, but sleep is sometimes the first thing to go when your schedule gets hectic.

So, what happens when you do not get enough rest?

“It depends on the person, and everyone has their own biological rhythm. In general, the majority of people do well with six to seven hours of sleep. Some people may need more; some people may need less,” Cheryl Purvis, professor of anatomy, explained. “There’s a percentage of the population who actually have the short sleeper gene. They may only need four hours of sleep, and they routinely live like that and are fine. They do well, but it’s their own bodies’ rhythm and clock. That is a relatively small percentage of the population, though.”

So, how can we figure out our biological clock?

Purvis suggested taking the time to figure out how your body naturally runs.

“What I think is particularly helpful is taking the time to figure your own clock out. When you have the opportunity to sort of ‘free run,’ for instance during breaks, go to bed when you are sleepy and wake up when you are rested. That way, you can find out when your typical pattern is,” Purvis said. “When you know your own body’s pattern, you are more productive and happier. While we can’t always do that, it does affect your maximum efficiency.”

Sleep is not just about escaping from reality; it is about your mental and physical health. According to Purvis, sleep is multifaceted and can affect a wide array of aspects of our lives. Some of those aspects may include physical health, mental health, our relationships with others, productivity and creativity. These areas of our lives are affected directly by a lack of sleep, but as college students, oftentimes sleep is not the top priority over writing that term paper due before midnight. Speaking of typing up an assignment, there is also research that correlates sleep and blue lights.

“Bright light decreases melatonin secretion. Even blue light, like light from the television, our cell phones and laptops, can affect the melatonin secretion,” Purvis explained. “Sometimes students are staying up late writing a paper and then they find they can’t go to sleep. That blue light inhibits our melatonin, which is like our bodies’ own sedative.”

This can make it harder for you to fall asleep once you actually lie down.

So, how can we avoid this?

In order to prevent this, Purvis suggests sleep consolidation.

“One thing that studies say to do in order to maximize your sleep is to do what is called sleep consolidation. What most people try to do is go to bed early when they have to get up early, but then when you lie down and can’t go sleep, you are wasting time because your body doesn’t really want to sleep,” Purvis said.

For that reason, Purvis said to sleep when you are tired rather than when you think you should sleep. This is more effective.

So, what else is important?

Another important factor to consider is caffeine. Caffeine too late in the day can affect your ability to sleep later on, but sometimes caffeine is necessary to function. When it comes to caffeine, Purvis suggests limiting caffeine a few hours before bedtime.

“Caffeine does two things: it is a stimulant and studies show that it decreases melatonin secretion. The combination of those two can inhibit quality sleep. Of course, there is a ton of literature out there about energy drinks and their effects as well,” Purvis said. “Caffeine is helpful in certain aspects, but as far as sleep goes it is all about timing. I am certainly thankful for caffeine myself, but drinking caffeine too late is something to be aware of.”

So, does anything else affect our sleep?

In addition to caffeine, there is another aspect, specifically life in the residence halls, that affects college sleep patterns. Sometimes it may be that your neighbor is redecorating and rearranging furniture at 3 a.m., or it could be that your upstairs neighbors are blasting music. These situations make it very hard to get that much-needed rest, but these factors are not always controllable. To avoid confrontation on the issue, Purvis said to attempt to drown out the noise first.

“If it is something more distracting or something that may evoke a memory, like music with lyrics, [which] can engage the brain more, you would want something more soothing, like a noise machine. These machines help train your brain to a certain sound,” Purvis explained. “You focus on that sound subconsciously, while drowning out the other sounds around you. They also make white noise machines that have different sounds like water sounds, campfire sounds, the everglades. It’s not a distracting sound or something that makes your brain want to wake back up.”

So many people underestimate the effects of sleep. While sleep is a necessity, sometimes it is difficult to work into your hectic schedule. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to get quality rest, consider some of these tips to help get better sleep. School is important, but taking care of yourself is vital to your success.

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