Getting Your Good Night's Sleep

College students are one of the most sleep-deprived populations in our society.

It is easy to see how researchers at the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School could come to such a conclusion. With factors like demanding course work, extracurricular activities, sports, job hunting, and everything else that occupies a day’s work, students can easily get wrapped up in what they need to accomplish and forget to put their health first.

An article posted on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) webpage states that 70% of college students do not get enough sleep, while 50% of students report that they feel drowsy during the day.

Fatigue is not the only side effect of consistently losing a good night’s sleep. The article posted on NCBI claims that, for students, a lack of sleep “can result in lower grade point averages, increased risk of academic failure, compromised learning, impaired mood, and increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.”

Sleep deprivation can also carry into health issues that may arise in the future. Harvard Medical School reports that insufficient sleep can lead to weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, elevated blood pressure, mental distress, and a lower life expectancy.

WHAT CAUSES SLEEP DEPRIVATION? – For Dr. Justin Feldman, a physical therapist and owner of Feldman Physical Therapy and Performance located in the Fishkill and LaGrange areas, sleep deprivation’s toll on the human body was quite noticeable.

“I started to notice a trend in clients who were healing at a slower rate or [were] more prone to different types of overuse injuries as a result of not sleeping enough,” Feldman shared. “And that’s what led me down the rabbit hole of learning more about [sleep deprivation].”

Dr. Justin Feldman pictured at his business, Feldman Physical Therapy and Performance

Dr. Justin Feldman pictured at his business, Feldman Physical Therapy and Performance

After brushing up on some reading, Dr. Feldman was able to narrow down some factors that could contribute to a student’s failure to sleep for a minimum of 8 to 9 hours.

Students oftentimes hold the misconception that staying up late to study when they should be sleeping is a good thing. But Dr. Feldman has found that the body benefits more from an extra hour of sleep rather than an extra hour of studying.

“The problem is, because your body is so sleep deprived, you’re not retaining anything that you’re learning, and you’re setting yourself up as you go into the exam to be in a position where you’re not able to really think that critically,” said Feldman.

Another large factor in restlessness is the presence of cellphones and smart devices. Phones can distract a student from getting a full, uninterrupted night’s rest when the person chooses to play games or scroll through social media while in bed.

Dr. Feldman additionally stated that the light emitting from screens also tends to throw off sleep cycles.

He explains, “A lot of times if you’re watching TV, working on a computer, reading on an iPad in bed, any of those things, [with] all of that light your brain doesn’t really get the clue that it’s time to secrete the hormones that put you to sleep.”

In terms of nutrition, foods categorized as stimulants, those high in sugar like chocolate, wine, and even fruit, can leave people feeling like a “three-year-old who ate too much cake” while they are trying to fall asleep.

And as much as we would like to believe it, coffee or a can of RedBull is not a tremendous help, either. Feldman states that caffeinated beverages can reverse the feelings of sleepiness, but they cannot help the person to think clearly or make good decisions.

Additionally, with the introduction of the spring season, those taking medications to combat their seasonal allergies may also experience a difficult time falling asleep. According to Feldman, all allergy medicines are different; some may keep a person awake, while others can help the individual sleep easier.

HOW TO MAINTAIN A HEALTHY SLEEP CYCLE – To combat sleep deprivation, Dr. Feldman’s first piece of advice is to make sure students are sticking to a regular routine and sleep schedule.

He said, “where people tend to end up with a problem is [when they say] ‘well you know, Tuesday I don’t have class til 11:00 so I’m going to sleep til 10:30, and because I slept so late then Tuesday night I’m gonna go to bed at midnight. But Wednesday I have class at 8:00 a.m. so I gotta get up at 7:00, and so then so I’m gonna take a nap during the day or just go to bed early.’ And so, all of a sudden, you’re not really on a schedule, your body never has the chance to fall into a regular rhythm.”

When developing a sleep schedule, students should be setting aside 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Students should also account for an extra half hour to wind down and clear their minds for sleep.

While difficult to do in a dorm, students should try to keep their cell phones out of their rooms when it is time for bed and make the room as dark as they possibly can. Dr. Feldman advises to students to put themselves in “a position where you’re going to be able to fall asleep in when you lay down,” meaning no coursework or technology in bed.

Students should also avoid naps as a means of getting their sleep back on track. Feldman believes that, while napping can eliminate fatigue, it cannot replace the time lost due to staying up late.

It is also important for students to keep their immune systems strong, especially during finals week, and sleep plays a large role in this. Dr. Feldman says a lack of sleep in a high-stress environment weakens the immune system, even more so in the colder months.

While some students may believe pulling an all-nighter to finish that paper or cram information into their heads before an exam is worthwhile, they should reconsider what it is actually doing to their bodies.

Thumbnail image by Ivan Obolensky, originally found on Pexels