We’re talking about sleep here people.
Sleep deprivation is a common occurrence for college students. Students are juggling academics, jobs and a personal life, resulting in extremely irregular and busy schedules. Although it may not be realistic to have sleep as your first priority, it should definitely still be up at the top of your list. College is a tough time to have a regular routine and get an appropriate amount of sleep, but trying to give your body the amount it needs is important for your academic, health, and fitness goals.
What’s wrong with not getting enough sleep?
Getting an adequate amount of sleep is a critical element to overall health and wellbeing. Outside of the obvious annoyance of feeling tired and irritable when you don’t sleep enough, lack of sleep has been correlated with chronic illnesses, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. It also greatly impairs your alertness, reaction time, and decision making abilities. This is closely linked with motor vehicle accidents, particularly in young adults under 25. It is estimated that up to 6,000 fatal accidents occur each year due to drowsy driving. Additionally, it can decrease brain function, memory recall, and attention span, potentially resulting in lower academic performance.
Will lack of sleep get in the way of my weight loss goals?
Studies have shown that insufficient sleep may reduce your ability to lose weight. In fact, if you have been working out and eating well and aren’t seeing the results you are looking for, you should definitely take a look at your sleep habits. With an average of 4 hours sleep a night (not a stretch for many SDSU students during midterms and finals), many of your body’s normal functions can be greatly impaired. Additionally, not getting an adequate amount of sleep affects your hormones, specifically Leptin and Grehlin, which help control your feelings of hunger and fullness. When you aren’t sleeping enough these hormones become out of whack and you are more likely to crave foods that are high in sugar and carbs. You also release growth hormones during sleep, and without sufficient growth hormones, you may not see the muscle gain you are looking for.
How might exercise affect my quality of sleep?
We typically hear about exercise as a way to improve sleep quality. It is commonly accepted by health and fitness professionals that regular exercise will decrease insomnia and lead to deeper and more restorative sleep sessions. If you workout in the morning, exercise can help you wake up, jumpstarting your brain and your metabolism. However, you should be cautious of exercising too close to bedtime. Experts suggest that you end your workouts no later than three hours prior to the time you are planning to sleep. Sleeping and body temperature are closely linked. If your body temperature is too high, you may find it difficult to sleep at night. It can take up to 6 hours for your body temperature to drop back down to normal post workout, so if it is too close to bedtime you may have a hard time falling to sleep or experience poor sleep quality. Ideally, you should plan your workouts for late afternoons.
Can being overweight affect my sleep quality?
Yes it can! Almost 20 million Americans experience sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that causes individuals to stop breathing at different points during sleep. Sleep apnea can lead to a variety of health complications with the heart and of because of the reoccurring disruptions to the sleep pattern, causes those suffering to experience extreme drowsiness during the day. Individuals who are overweight have an increased chance of being afflicted with sleep apnea due to the strain placed on the neck and upper body by extra weight. The correlation between obesity and sleep apnea leads to a vicious cycle – if people are extremely tired during their waking hours they are less motivated and capable of getting the physical activity necessary to improve their health and fitness. If you find yourself in this situation, experts suggest seeking medical attention for the sleep apnea as a first step in the process to improve your health and quality of life.
How much sleep do I really need?
This varies by individual. Most adults require 7-8 hours of sleep for optimum physical and mental performance. Some people can operate completely fine at around 5 or 6 hours of sleep, while others need more like 10 to avoid feeling sleepy throughout the day.
I am busy and have a hectic schedule. What are some tips on how to get better sleep?
• Save your bed for bedtime activities only! Keep your studying, reading, and laptop TV watching in appropriate places, like your desk or living room.
• Now this one can be hard… but try to avoid looking at screens right before sleeping. Do your social networking prior to getting ready for bed!
• Make some attempt to have a regular bedtime and wake-up time. Getting on a standard schedule can help your body know when it’s time to get moving and when it’s time to wind down.
• Limit your caffeine and nicotine intake, particularly near bedtime.
• Do not use alcohol or marijuana as sleep aids! Although they may help you fall asleep faster, they interfere with your sleep patterns, causing your quality of sleep to be negatively affected.
• If you are going to nap during the day, keep your naps short (around 20-30 minutes). Any longer and you may be more drowsy upon waking and have trouble sleeping at night.
• Practice guided or self meditation right before attempting to sleep. This can quiet your mind and relax your body. You can find free meditation podcasts and tips online and via smart phone apps.
• Learn a few simple yoga poses as a means to relax your mind. An example is legs up the wall pose http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/690
• Create a sleeping sanctuary! Make sure your sleep environment is quiet, dark, cool, and devoid of distractions.
To Learn More Check Out:
Columbia Health’s “Go Ask Alice” Website at http://goaskalice.columbia.edu
The National Sleep Foundation at http://www.sleepfoundation.org
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Health and Safety for College Students” Website at http://www.cdc.gov/features/collegehealth/
The National Institute of Health’s “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep” Website at http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm
Check out SDSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services Website for workshops that can help you learn meditation techniques and better ways to deal with stress and anxiety http://www.sa.sdsu.edu/cps/cps_home.html
For additional yoga and meditation ideas visit Yoga Journal’s pose index: http://www.yogajournal.com/poses
By Stephanie Waits, MPH, CHES