– Thomas Dekker
Questions to consider:
- Are you getting enough sleep?
- How much sleep is enough?
- What are the impacts of sleep deprivation?
- Which strategies and support can enhance sleep?
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Identify benefits of sleep for both physical and mental health
- Examine your current sleep habits
- Identify ways to ensure good sleep habits and high-quality sleep, especially during periods of stress
We all know sleep is the foundation of good health, but how many of us truly have enough sleep? Lack of sleep affects mental and physical performance and can make you more irritable. The diminished energy that results from too little sleep often leads us to make poor decisions about most things, including food. Think about the last time you were really tired. Did you crave pizza, donuts, and fries—or a healthy salad? Studies have shown that people who sleep less are more likely to eat fewer vegetables and eat more fats and refined carbohydrates.
With sufficient sleep it is easier to learn, to remember what you learned, and to have the necessary energy to make the most of your college experience. Without sufficient sleep it is harder to learn, to remember what you learned, and to have the energy to make the most of your college experience. It’s that simple.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
The amount of sleep each person needs depends on many factors, including age. Infants generally require about sixteen hours a day, while teenagers need about nine hours on average. For most adults, seven to eight hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep. The amount of sleep a person needs also increases if he or she has been deprived of sleep in previous days. Getting too little sleep creates a “sleep debt,” which is a lot like being overdrawn at a bank. Eventually, your body will demand that the debt be repaid. We don’t seem to adapt to getting less sleep than we need; while we may get used to a sleep-depriving schedule, our judgment, reaction time, and other functions are still impaired. If you’re a student, that means that sleep-deprivation may prevent you from studying, learning, and performing as well as you can.
People tend to sleep more lightly and for shorter time spans as they get older, although they generally need about the same amount of sleep as they needed in early adulthood. Experts say that if you feel drowsy during the day, even during boring activities, you haven’t had enough sleep. If you routinely fall asleep within five minutes of lying down, you probably have severe sleep deprivation, possibly even a sleep disorder. “Microsleeps,” or very brief episodes of sleep in an otherwise awake person, are another mark of sleep deprivation. In many cases, people are not aware that they are experiencing microsleeps. The widespread practice of “burning the candle at both ends” in western industrialized societies has created so much sleep deprivation that what is really abnormal sleepiness is now almost the norm. The following video explains why healthy sleep is crucial for your academic success.
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Tips to Improve the Quality of Your Sleep
Now that you are more aware of the ways insufficient sleep harms your body, let’s review some of the things you can do to enhance your sleep.
Make sleep a priority.
It can be challenging in college, but try to get on a schedule where you sleep and wake at the same time every day to get your body accustomed to a routine. This will help your body get into a sleep rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning.
Sleep in a cool, quiet, dark room.
Create a sleeping environment that is comfortable and conducive to sleep. If you can control the temperature in your room, keep it cool in the evening. Scientists believe a cool bedroom (around 65 degrees) may be best for sleep, since it mimics our body’s natural temperature drop. Exposure to bright light suppresses our body’s ability to make melatonin, so keep the room as dark as possible. A 2010 study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that individuals exposed to room light “during the usual hours of sleep suppressed melatonin by greater than 50%.” Even the tiniest bit of light in the room (like from a clock radio LCD screen) can disrupt your internal clock and your production of melatonin, which will interfere with your sleep. A sleep mask may help eliminate light, and earplugs can help reduce noise.
Avoid eating late or drinking alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime.
It is best to finish eating at least two hours before bedtime and avoid caffeine after lunch. While not everyone is affected in the same way, caffeine hangs around a long time in most bodies. Although alcohol will make you drowsy, the effect is short-lived and you will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back to sleep. Alcohol can also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of the repair and healing. A 2013 Scientific Research study concluded that “energy drinks, other caffeinated beverages and alcoholic beverages are risk factors of poor sleep quality.” It’s important to finish eating hours before bedtime so your body is able to heal and detoxify and it is not spending the first few hours of sleep digesting a heavy meal.
Start to wind down an hour before bed.
There are great apps, such as Insight Timer, to help with relaxation, stress release, and falling asleep. Or you can simply practice 4-6-8 breathing to calm your nervous system—breathe in to the count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 6, and release your breath slowly to the count of 8.
Exercise for 30 minutes a day.
One of the biggest benefits of exercise is its effect on sleep. A study from Stanford University found that 16 weeks in a moderate-intensity exercise program allowed people to fall asleep about 15 minutes faster and sleep about 45 minutes longer. Find an exercise you like and make sure to move your body every day.
Improve your diet.
Low fiber and high saturated fat and sugar intake is associated with lighter, less restorative sleep with more wake time during the night. Processed food full of chemicals will make your body work extra hard during the night to remove the toxins and leave less time for healing and repair.
Sleep affects how we look, feel, and function on a daily basis and is vital to our health and quality of life. When you get the sleep your body needs, you look more vibrant, you feel more vibrant, and you have the energy to live your best life.
Now, with a better understanding of the benefits of getting the recommended hours of nightly sleep and the health risks of not getting enough sleep, what changes can you make to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep?
- Sleep is the foundation of good health.
- Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep.
- Regular and adequate sleep helps students stay focused, improves concentration, and academic performance.
Attributions and References
This chapter is an adaptation from the following OER:
Dillon, D. (2021). Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skill and Time Management Strategies. Pressbook.
Book URL: https://press.rebus.community/blueprint1/
Section URL: https://press.rebus.community/blueprint1/chapter/50-sleep/
License: CC BY Attribution
Baldwin, A. (2020). College Success. Provided by: Open Stax.
Book URL: Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/college-success/pages/1-introduction
License: CC BY: Attribution