Jackie Vittum ’19
This semester the Student Health Awareness Peer Educators (SHAPE) has compiled a set of goals to accomplish at Holy Cross, including spreading awareness and information on sleep, nutrition, and cancer to the campus population. As we prepare to host a table on sleep in the upcoming event “Break-for-a-Break” in the Fieldhouse the week of 10/1-10/4 our first topic is sleep—so what is the importance of sleep and how can we improve our sleep quality?
Problems with sleep are widespread and particularly prominent in college populations. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, sleep needs to be a priority because a lack of sleep results in many detrimental issues such as decreases in cognition, attention and sustained attention, and long-term storage of learned information, as well as deregulation of hunger and eating patterns, and mood changes and decreased reaction time which can put you at risk for motor vehicle accidents. For example, sleep loss results in decreased levels of leptin (hormone released by adipose, or fat tissue and that inhibits hunger) in the body, leading to increased hunger. It also leads to increased levels of ghrelin (hormone that stimulates appetite and is released from the stomach), which increases your desire to eat, albeit unnecessarily in this instance.
Additionally, it is interesting to note that sleeping 4-5 hours over a period of 3-4 nights can lead to a sleep deficit, and such a deficit takes more than a weekend to recover from! Caffeine won’t help you in the long-term, as caffeine can disrupt your sleep more, by making it hard for you to fall asleep, stay asleep, and cause sleep disruption. This occurs because it blocks the hormone that accumulates during the day to induce sleep at the end of the day. In addition, caffeine can make you jittery and is upsetting to the stomach which disrupts sleep even more. Although in small doses caffeine can result in alertness and better concentration, this is only temporary and high doses taken regularly can impede your sleep and performance. Drinking alcohol can initially make you feel sleepy and fall asleep, but it affects overall sleep quality by disrupting the normal sleep patterns later in evening, making you have poor sleep and can worsen sleep apnea.
So, what can college students do to establish healthy sleep patterns?
- Turn off your cell phone before bed; the blue light from devices shifts your circadian rhythm. Relaxing before bed can help with this: yoga and meditation are good tools.
- Avoid daytime naps and if you do need a nap, then ensure that you are awake for 4 hours before you go back to bed for the night.
- Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable place; doing work in your room may affect how you perceive your room by relating it to stress.
- Do not pull “all-nighters” because when you wake up you can have headaches, mood problems, increased stress, and even a decrease in immune function that can put you at an increased risk for illness.
- Set sleeping for 7-9 hours a night as a goal.
- Some medications can affect sleep by enhancing wakefulness and causing insomnia. Talk to your Health Care Provider. Avoid caffeine after 12 noon.
- Exercise! Physical activity can promote healthy sleep patterns. Avoid exercising too close to your bedtime as exercise can increase alertness and body temperature therefore impeding ability to fall asleep.
- Seek treatment for headaches, depression, anxiety, GERD, asthma, thyroid problems, and other chronic illnesses because they can result in sleep problems.
- Polish up on your time management skills, as scheduling adequate time to sleep is imperative to optimizing your sleep quality and subsequently your alertness, memory, capacity to think, regulate your mood, and ability the next day. Regular healthy sleep improves overall health and wellbeing.
- Take the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) assessment to assess your own sleep quality.
For more information, you can stop by our SHAPE table at the “Break-for-a-Break” event in the Fieldhouse on 10/1, where we will be giving out sleep masks and informational handouts. We also have a nutrition table on 10/4. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for regular updates on our activity on campus this year!
Photo Courtesy of College of the Holy Cross