Thursday, December 9, 2010

When Sleep is Just a Dream:

How Students Can get a Good Night’s Sleep
By: Jennie Nickerson

Sleep is as essential as food, air, and water. Yet, even as a basic necessity, students often forego a good night’s sleep when deadlines, presentations, essays and finals creep around the corner. When sleep becomes bumped down on a student’s list of priorities, it can negatively impact their energy levels, alertness and general well being during the day.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry School, young adults need at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night to ensure good health. However, more than 60 per cent only end up getting four to five hours. Findings from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine coincide with this data, as they note that college students are suffering from sleep deprivation, which not only impacts academic performance, but can also lead to irritability, depression and weight gain.

So what's the secret to balancing the demands of school and sleep? In short, there is none. “If you want to function good during the day you just gotta find the time [to sleep] at night,” says Ryan Taylor, a psychology grad student and volunteer at Brock University’s Sleep Research Laboratory in St. Catharines. “There aren’t any secrets to getting a good night’s sleep. You just have to give your body the rest it needs.”

That being said, Taylor says there are tips that college students can take to ensure they get the best night’s sleep possible.

Set a regular bedtime 

Setting up a consistent sleep schedule will help you feel more rested in the morning. “Going to bed at the same time each night signals to your body that it's time to sleep. Waking up at the same time every day can also help establish good sleep patterns,” says Taylor. This strategy should be applied even on weekends.

Cut out the stimulants 

Avoid alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes right before bed. “Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants and can wreak havoc on your sleep, especially before bed,” says Taylor. While a nightcap will make you feel drowsy and help you fall asleep, studies from the National Sleep Foundation show that it also increases the number of times you wake up during the night, resulting in a less peaceful sleep. Relax your mind Avoid violent, scary, action movies or television shows right before bed - anything that might set your mind and heart racing. “I always find reading a book before bed helps me to relax,” says Taylor. Listening to slow, soothing music or sounds with the lights off may entice the Sandman to your bedroom faster.

Exercise regularly 

Keep physically active during the day, but try not to exercise right before bed. “Going for a jog or playing sports in the late afternoon is actually good for getting a better sleep, but it’s important to not get your blood pumping right before you go to bed because it’ll take longer for your body to calm down,” says Taylor. If you must exercise before going to bed, yoga or gentle stretching routines are the best choice.

Avoid Naps 

Don’t take any naps the day after you've lost sleep. “When you feel sleepy, get up and do something instead,” says Taylor. “Go for a walk, do your errands, or go visit a friend.” While studying, get up regularly (every 30 minutes or so) to walk around your room. This will increase the flow of oxygen to your brain and help you to be more alert.

Don’t pull all-nighters 

Don't wait until the night before a big exam to study. “When you cut back on sleep the night before a test you’ll actually end up doing worse,” says Taylor. Instead, study a few days in advance so you’re completely prepared when the exam day comes. Create a comfortable sleeping environment Avoid a noisy, bright bedroom. “People sleep better in a dark room that is on the cool side,” says Taylor. Close your blinds or curtains and make sure your room is as quiet as possible.

By following these tips, Taylor believes students can maximize their mental capacity both in and out of the classroom.

So go ahead, skip the alcohol, knock off early, and fluff your pillow. There's never been a better reason to sleep!

- Jennie

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