Getting All the Sleep You Need

A recent National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America poll found that 60% of American adults experience sleep problems and research shows that the amount of sleep college students get continues to be less than adequate.  Sleep is not merely a “time out” from our busy routines; it is essential for good health, mental and emotional functioning, and safety.  Even occasional sleeping problems can make daily life feel more stressful or cause you to be less productive. Sleep needs vary but most healthy adults need an average of eight hours of sleep a night. If you have trouble staying alert during boring or monotonous situations, you probably aren’t getting enough good-quality sleep.  Other signs include being irritable and difficulty concentrating or remembering facts.

Virtually everyone suffers an occasional night of poor sleep. Common sleep “stealers” include:

  • Stress--considered by most sleep experts to be the No. 1 cause of short-term sleeping difficulties.
  • Lifestyle--drinking alcohol or caffeine-containing beverages in the afternoon or evening, exercising close to bedtime, an irregular morning and nighttime schedule, and doing mentally intense activities right before or after getting into bed.
  • Late night or overnight work--it forces you to try to sleep when activities around you and your own biological rhythms signal you to be awake.
  • Environment--A room that’s too hot or cold, too noisy or too brightly lit can be a barrier to sound sleep.  If you have to sleep by someone who has different sleep preferences, snores, can’t fall asleep or stay asleep, it often becomes your problem, too.
  • Physical factors--backache, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, and hormone shifts during the menstrual cycle can intrude on sleep.
  • Medications--medications such as decongestants, steroids and some medications for asthma or depression can cause sleep difficulties as a side effect.
Sleep Disorders

While most of us will go through life experiencing occasional difficulty getting a good night’s sleep, as many as 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders.  Although more than 70 sleep disorders have been described, the most common are insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy. If you or someone you know is struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep at night or is experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness, a health care provider can provide additional help and information.  Treatment for short-term and chronic sleep disorders is available.

Better Sleep Tips for College Students
  • To fall asleep quickly, avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the late afternoon and evening.
  • Go to bed as close to the same time each night as possible and build into your schedule enough time for 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine that will allow you to unwind and send a “signal” to your brain that it’s time to sleep.
  • If you anticipate a night with little sleep, take a nap beforehand to avoid sleep loss.  But if you suffer from insomnia, consider avoiding naps altogether.
  • Exercise regularly but avoid vigorous exercise at least three hours before bedtime.
  • If you lie awake worrying about things you need to do, try “putting them away” by writing them down in a journal so you are free to sleep.
  • Save your bed for sleep.  Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep or sex.
  • Make your sleep environment as pleasant, comfortable, and quiet as you can.  Most people sleep best in a cool, dark environment.
  • Do not “check the time” if you wake in the middle of the night.  This often creates arousal and makes it more difficult to fall back asleep.
  • It can be hard to fall asleep if you’re hungry so grab a light snack.
Napping Notes

According to Dr. Mark Rosenkind, President and Chief Scientist at Alertness Solutions, napping is one way to combat the effects of fatigue.  His research with NASA pilots given planned, controlled 40 minute naps, showed a 34% improvement in performance and a 54% improvement in alertness.  For college students looking for improvement in performance and alertness, a quick nap is pretty simple and straightforward.  Dr. Rosenkind offer the following guidelines for napping:

  • If you are going to take a nap, make it no longer than forty-five minutes.  A longer nap will put you into deep sleep, leaving you feeling groggy and disoriented instead of rested.
  • If you are going to take a longer nap, make it for about two hours to get through a full sleep cycle.
  • Set an alarm so you don’t sleep through your next class.
  • Use music to lull you to sleep and the ear buds it comes through to block out background noise.
  • Napping is best completely avoided for those suffering from insomnia.

Marcia Stein, spokeswoman for the National Sleep Foundation reminds us, “If we get sufficient sleep at night, we don’t need to nap when we’re meant to be awake.  If you feel sleepiness when you’ve had enough sleep, it may be a signal something is wrong and you should see a doctor.”

Spots on Campus to catch a couple Zzzz’s
  • Centennial Student Union:  this building wasn’t designed for napping but students can find both cozy corners and comfy couches on all levels that can bring on a nap attack.
  • Highland Arena Second Floor above the food area:  the chairs are perfect for short-term shut-eye.
  • Memorial Library:  it’s quiet, the lights are low…need we say more?
  • Pennington Hall by the yoga/exercise studios:  If you can block out the noise, the furniture is the kind that allows you to sink into slumberland.
  • Nelson Hall lobby:  this location features great artwork close by and bench seating that can double as a spot to stretch out.

Be aware that napping in public places may make it easy for non-nappers to help themselves to your laptop, phone, textbooks and other valuables.  Do your best to secure your valuables (use your backpack as a pillow, keep items on your lap, etc.)  Oh...and try not to drool!

Medications, Substances, and Sleep

Most over-the-counter sleep medications contain antihistamines which can cause drowsiness that lasts into the next day. Over the counter medications can cause side effects and can interact with other medications and substances.  Melatonin, a natural hormone made by a pea-sized gland in the brain, is often taken as a sleep aid supplement.  Melatonin supplements are not regulated, have limited benefits, and can also cause drowsiness that lasts into the next day.  You should discuss ANY sleep aid you are considering with your health care provider.

Common beverages and caffein amounts in milligrams:
  • Mountain Dew, 12 ounce can:  55 mg.
  • Pepsi, 20 ounce bottle:  63 mg.
  • Plain brewed coffee, 8 ounce cup:  80-100 mg.
  • Starbucks Grande, 16 ounces:   330 mg.
  • Original Monster Energy Drink, 16 ounces:  160 mg.
  • Red Bull, 8.4 ounces:  80 mg.
  • Original Rockstar Energy Drink, 16 ounces:  160 mg.