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Sleep to Success!

Jae Chung

Sleep is important. Despite knowing this, so many still don’t get enough. In fact, researchers are increasingly focusing on college students because they are one of the most sleep-deprived populations. College students today generally go to bed one to two hours later and sleep less per night on average compared to previous generations. Today, we're going to talk about why sleep is critical to your health and general academic success. Hopefully, by the end of this post, you'll be convinced to hit the pillow earlier.

As a scientist, it’s in my nature to turn to research studies and data to craft a convincing argument. How is it that we know sleep is important but we find ourselves constantly in short supply of it? Perhaps some convincing data on sleep studies and how it affects performance might correct that break in logic.

Research has shown that:

  • Adequate sleep (at least 8-9 hours) is essential to feeling awake and alert, maintaining good health and working at peak performance.
  • After two weeks of sleeping six hours or less a night, students feel as bad and perform as poorly as someone who has gone without sleep for 48 hours straight!
  • Students that get at least 8 hours of sleep performed significantly better on memory and motor tasks than students that get 7 hours of sleep.
  • College students who pull “all-nighters” are more likely to have a lower GPA.
  • Students who stay up late on school nights and make up for it by sleeping late on weekends are more likely to perform poorly in the classroom.
  • Inconsistent sleep can make your body feel like it's in another time zone.
  • Tasks learned during one day are performed better the next day after a good night's sleep, and significantly better than after a night of no sleep at all.

It’s clear that sleep increases attention and performance. Our brains actually learn while we sleep. Sufficient sleep aids in the consolidation of long-term memories whereas deprivation decreases performance and attention while also affecting judgement, decision-making and our mood. All of these lead to increased difficulty in acquiring new information. So what can you do to get that 8 hours of sleep?

Get to bed early
This is probably the hardest thing to do on the list but students should go to bed early enough to have the opportunity for a full night of sleep (at least 8 hours!)

Stay out of bed if you’re not using it for sleep.
Don’t study, read, watch TV or talk on the phone in bed. Only use your bed for sleep. Your brain will associate your bed with sleep and will help you fall asleep.

Limit naps
If you take a nap, then keep it brief. Nap for less than an hour and before 3 p.m. Taking prolonged naps (more than an hour) will affect your sleep quality at night and naps after 3 PM will throw off your sleep cycle, making it harder to fall asleep at night.

Wake up on the weekend
Keep your body on a consistent sleep schedule. It is best to go to bed and wake up at the same times on the weekend as you do during the week. Keeping your sleep/wake schedules consistent will help you sleep better and Monday mornings won’t be so difficult.

Avoid caffeine after 3 PM
Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and at night. It stays in your system for hours and will make it difficult for you to fall asleep.

Adjust the lights
Get your body into the habit of associating the evening with a time to sleep. Dim the lights so your body knows sleep time is approaching. Conversely, let in natural light in the morning to boost your alertness.

Wind down – No technology 15-30 minutes before bed
Take some time to “wind down” before going to bed. Get away from the computer, turn off the TV and the cell phone, and relax quietly for 15 to 30 minutes. Meditation is a great way to do this.

Additional Resources:
If you find yourself having trouble going to sleep regardless of the measures you take to improve your sleep, visit Vaden Health Center, CAPS, and talk to your care provider.

If you are worried that you might have a sleep disorder, you can find more information on that at the NIH website here.

Next week: Poems!