A good night’s sleep entails having enough hours of sleep and quality sleep patterns, and this is becoming increasingly monumental in our day to day lives. For students, quality sleep is one of the major differentiating factors between success and failure. In fact, research conducted by University of Georgia shows that students who get a good night’s rest perform better academically since they get better memory to process new information. The more sleep students get, the more efficient their brains become at retaining important information and setting aside irrelevant information.
Benefits of a good night’s sleep
Not only does a good night’s sleep boost memory, it also lowers the risk of obesity. When students get enough sleep, the body produces less of the hunger hormone (ghrelin) hence less appetite is stimulated and consequently less fat storage. Additionally, sleep decreases the chances of getting sick because the body releases proteins called cytokines which are needed when one has an infection or is under stress. With enough sleep the students will also experience an improved mood helping them avoid being sluggish the following day.
What causes poor sleep
Sleep disorders; According to a study conducted by the Journal of American College Health(JF, 2020), 27% of the students were at risk for developing a sleep disorder. The most common sleep disorder among students are circadian rhythm sleep disorders. This comes as a result of long hours of exposure to blue light, restless legs disorder characterised by the irresistible urge to move the legs especially in the evening and periodic limb movement disorder where one's limbs move periodically and involuntarily during sleep, insomnia disorder which causes the student to have , and obstructive sleep apnea.
Excessive use of technology and social media: From laptops to tablets to smartphones we can’t live without technology – and social media of course. Science confirms that long hours of exposure to smartphones isn’t good for sleep (Vernon L, 2020). The blue light emitted from the electronic devices makes falling asleep more difficult. And the constant stimulus of social media; scrolling through photos, status updates, tweets or reading online articles keep the brain and body awake and alert, creating an erudite relationship between bed and socialisation instead of bed and sleeping. Sleep hygiene is very important, this is the practice of having a regular routine of waking up and going to bed as well as only using the bed for sleeping or sex. Other activities in the bed will make it harder for your body to understand this is where you rest.
A study conducted in nature explains how the artificial blue light given off by smartphones activates arousing neurones in the brain(Czeisler, 2013). These chemicals disrupt the body’s ability to produce melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. Not only does smartphone use prevent us from getting the sleep they need, but it also makes you feel less sleepy. And when you finally do sleep, the quality of sleep is drastically reduced.
Too much late-night leisure activities: Most of us, including young professionals and students seem to work hard, play hard. If you’re not studying or working, then you’re probably hanging out with friends and enjoying a newly discovered freedom. Having fun isn’t a bad thing, but several nights of staying up late can have severe effects mentally, physically and academically.
Stress, drugs and alcohol; Student life can be stressful naturally, this can keep you awake at night. Some turn to drugs and alcohol so as to unwind. While some drugs and alcohol induce sleep, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality is up to par. These drugs can cause fragmented sleep, meaning they’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night.
Energy drinks and caffeine; Redbull drinks and other caffeinated beverages like the 99p energy drink from your local corner shop are extremely popular. According to American College of Medical Toxicology, drinking energy drinks can become a vicious cycle because generally we consume them when they’re tired and in turn, the high caffeine content of these beverages causes sleep disruptions that deter us from getting a good nights sleep.
Ways to get better night sleep
Shut down all electronics before sleeping; This isn't easy for most young adults, sleep specialist Dr. Whitney Roban says students should stop using these devices at least one hour before going to bed. As discussed earlier, the blue light emitted from electronics tricks the brain into thinking it’s day time hence decreases the level of melatonin produced by the body thus making it more difficult to fall asleep.
Alternatively - if you think you might struggle to do this, using a blue light filter such as an Ocushield can help limit harmful blue light from your digital device screens. Available for smartphones, tablets and monitors simply using one of Ocushield’s screen protectors can encourage more melatonin production in the body. Software such as night mode can help some users, but recently research from the Lighting Research Centre in USA has shown Apple’s solution such as night mode may not be very effective.
Some students claim that soft sounds from the television help them fall asleep. While this may be true, the quality of one's sleep is disrupted. As programs change, there are variations in sound. These small variations can affect overall sleep quality.
Set a regular sleep schedule and follow it; According to Dr. Ann Romaker, Associate Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the UC College, to function optimally your body clock needs regularity. Staying up all night and then sleeping the next day can mess up one's body clock and throw them off for over a week. The clock genes in every organ need to remain coordinated so that the immune system, hormonal systems, heart, lungs, brain, etc. operate optimally and to repair damage from the previous wake period.
Avoid after-4pm caffeine; While caffeine is usually the chosen drink among young professionals and students who need an extra bit of energy in the later afternoon, it’s best to avoid such drinks after about 4p.m. Caffeine can impact sleep for eight hours after students drink it because it increases brain wave activity. Even if one falls asleep during this time, the quality of sleep will be less revitalising than it should be.
Create space that maximises sleep; Environment and ambiance can make a big difference when it comes to getting a good night’s rest. Creating a comfortable area only for sleeping can help the mind and body prepare for quality sleep. As recommended by Dr Schneeberg, students should arrange their bedrooms into three zones ; for sleeping, relaxing and other for studying. This will help keep the bed only for sleeping.
Use of sleep medications or natural supplements; Students who suffer from insomnia (which is a clinical diagnosis and not to be self diagnosed) may consider seeing a doctor to discuss sleep medications like zaleplon, zolpidem, eszopiclone and doxepin. These medications improve the sleep cycle, making a better night’s sleep more possible for those who suffer the most. A more natural approach would involve using supplements like magnesium, calcium and melatonin. This supplements can encourage the body to fall into a natural restful sleep.
In conclusion, it has become increasingly harder for students to balance between sleep, leisure and studies since you’re exposed to many factors that could lead to poor sleep and you want to enjoy arguably the best years of your life. However, with a clear routine consisting of a regular wake and sleep schedule even on weekends, it’s easier to manage the three hence getting a good night’s sleep.
About the author: Dhruvin Patel is an optometrist and entrepreneur encouraging a healthier relationship with technology in the digital age. Since receiving a development grant from City University in London, he has built his company Ocushield into an internationally distributed, MHRA medically rated product and established himself as a leading authority on blue light and its impact on vision and quality of life.
Sources not linked in body
JF, G. (2020). The prevalence of sleep disorders in college students: impact on academic performance. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20864434/
Vernon L, e. (2020). Mobile Phones in the Bedroom: Trajectories of Sleep Habits and Subsequent Adolescent Psychosocial Development. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28556891
Czeisler, C. Perspective: Casting light on sleep deficiency. Nature 497, S13 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/497S13a
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