Sleeping Like a Pro
Alec Schemmel | 12/8/16 11:50am
| Updated 12/8/16 11:50am
Quality sleep is highly underrated and difficult to come by, but is extremely important to living a healthy life, especially for college students.
The average day of a college student tends to be very chaotic with numerous expectations, making sleep even more important to function at a proper level of efficiency.
“Amongst 18 to 23-year old college students, sleep also proves to be very helpful to the brain because it is still developing”, said Dr. Alayna Berkowitz, a staff clinician at the AU Counseling Center. Berkowitz spoke at a Nov. 17 panel discussion hosted by AU RecFit and sleep experts from across campus.
The genetic vulnerability of an individual to developing some form of mental illness also tends to peak during college years. However, improving student’s sleeping patterns can significantly decrease their chances of obtaining such a disorder, said Psychology Department Doctoral Candidates Amanda Chue and Alanna Covington, who work in the Stress and Emotion Lab on-campus.
Chue and Covington also spoke about the difficulties facing new students with cognitive predispositions to mental illnesses, and that good sleep can prevent the development of further symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends at least seven to nine hours of sleep a night – and eight to nine hours for college students. This is important because the brain needs to follow a certain pattern of undisturbed sleep to diminish troubles throughout the next day.
When asleep, an individual’s brain is very active. The brain goes through five different stages of sleep: Stages 1-4 , and REM sleep, the panel explained. Missing two to three of these cycles can cause disruptions in an individual’s performance the following day.
“The last three cycles and two hours of an individual’s night sleep are extremely important physiologically,” noted Dr. David Reitman, Medical Director of the Student Health Center at AU.
High rates of fatigue, inability to concentrate, irritability, and a lack of memory retention are just three examples of the detrimental effects of an unorganized sleeping pattern.
It is important to note that how long someone sleeps does not correlate to how well they slept.
To achieve quality sleep, it is important to follow good sleep hygiene habits. “It is important to eat no less than two hours before you go to bed,” said Jo-Ann Jolly, a dietician in AU Dining Services. When tired, individuals often look for comfort foods high in sugar, salt and fat, which can ruin any regular sleeping patterns, Jolly said
If you eat close to two hours before going to sleep, it’s important that it is something nutritious and easy for your body to digest. Skipping meals, which messes with your metabolism, is another bad habit that can make it difficult to retain good sleep hygiene.
In college, good sleep hygiene can be very hard for students to maintain. Berkowitz and other panel members agreed that going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is very important.
To achieve good sleep hygiene, it is important that beds are only used for specific actions, panelists said. Reitman recommended the bed only be used for sleep and sexual activity, nothing else, to allow your brain to train itself that laying down in bed means it is time to sleep.
In addition, caffeine can be very detrimental to sleep hygiene. Caffeine delays the brain’s ability to settle down and fall asleep, it can also keep individuals from reaching the heavy levels of sleep that are most important. Caffeine delays these sleep cycles from occurring because it causes a higher heart rate. It is recommended not to consume caffeine within six hours of when you plan to go to sleep.
“Other than sleep patterns, different cycles like circadian rhythms get interrupted when sleep patterns are interrupted”, said Dr. Reitman.
Negative thoughts, web-browsing, and dysfunctional beliefs about sleep can cause insomnia as well.
College kids often jet-lag their brains over the weekends with very little sleep. Often times students who tend to be “weekend-warriors” with their sleeping patterns, experience headaches that come from those shifting sleep patterns over the weekend.
The panel concluded with a few suggestions for how to re-create good sleeping patterns:
- Download and use a mobile phone application called CBTI Coach, which teaches you cognitive skills to improve your sleep as well as other useful sleeping tools.
- No long naps! A nap is great for 30 to 40 minutes maximum, but taking a two to three hour nap during the day will push back your sleep cycle.
- Exercise is key: exercising throughout the day is important to quality sleep, but the panel emphasized that workouts should be done at least two hours before bedtime.
“I might recommend thinking about your attitude towards sleep. Is it your enemy?” mentioned Berkowitz.
It is important to try out different activities that allow one to roll with the punches of life. Take the time to experiment what is right for you, and then allow our experiences to be our experiences and don’t catastrophize.