No rest for the weary

No+rest+for+the+weary

Kelly Novak

It’s no secret that college students are busy people. Back-to-back classes, late night study sessions and club events have students feeling like their days never stop. Sometimes, 24 hours doesn’t seem like enough time to get everything done, prompting students to wake up extremely early or go to bed too late. But this is not the norm students should adhere to, according to Carrie Bulger, professor and chairperson of the psychology department.

“College students are horribly sleep-deprived,” Bulger said. “I mean, you guys are at an age where you’re at the end of adolescence, beginning of young adulthood, where you still need eight to 10 hours of sleep a night.”

There are a variety of factors that can hinder a student’s best efforts to get to sleep, including poor diet, little exercise and incorrect napping habits. All of these things culminate into a less-than-stellar mood and could cause one’s academic success to suffer.

“Not getting enough sleep definitely makes you grumpy,” she said. “It makes it hard to focus… and it can disrupt your well-being all together.”

For those students prone to mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, a lack of sleep can “definitely exacerbate those issues,” Bulger said.

Many students resort to napping to get extra hours of sleep, such as freshman Maggie Richardson.

“I take a nap every three days,” Richardson said. “I do sleep a lot, but the school day just exhausts me.”

She also said the naps can cause her stress, because they are sometimes accidental when she is attempting to complete an assignment.

Bulger said many students aren’t napping in a way that allows them to reap all the benefits.

“What the research shows about naps is that there’s an optimal type of nap,” she said. “You shouldn’t nap all day or all afternoon; that doesn’t help. You’ve probably experienced [that feeling] where you take a really long nap and it’s like ‘Yes, I slept for three hours’ and then you’re just logy when you wake up. It’s because your body is sleeping at the wrong time of day.”

Bulger recommends taking a nap that is no more than 20 or 30 minutes in length and to choose the 2-4 p.m. time slot to snooze, a time when most students tend to hit that mid-day slump.

“I mean, there’s a reason for siesta in some of those European countries, that is exactly why they do it,” she said. “That is just a good time of day to take a breather.”

And to those students hoping to catch up on all the sleep they’ve missed during the week by spending the majority of their weekend in slumber, Bulger insists that does not hold any advantages.

“There’s no such thing as banking sleep,” she said.

A 2010 Harvard sleep study backs up her sentiments. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the study found that “even when you sleep an extra 10 hours to compensate for sleeping only six hours a night for up to two weeks, your reaction times and ability to focus is worse than if you had pulled an all-nighter.”

Bulger advises trying to gradually begin your bedtime routine earlier each night so your body can adjust itself. For example, if you go to bed at 2 a.m. on Monday to wake up for an 8 a.m. class, try going to bed at 1:30 a.m. the next night and continue this routine throughout the week.

The biggest thing that keep students up all night, Bulger said, is too much screen time right before bed, whether it be a smartphone, a laptop or the TV.

“It has to do with the type of light that’s inside of those screens…[which] have a blue light,” she said. “Basically, our eyes and our brains respond to that type of light as a time to wake up. So to be looking at that screen really close to bedtime is just signaling your brain it’s not time to rest.”

Ideally, one should power down the electronics an hour before he or she is ready to sleep. This tactic, along with eating properly, keeping an exercise routine and managing stress, will lead to fewer sleepless nights and more energy to make it through the day.

Bulger offers one more piece of advice when it comes to smartphone use at bedtime, though.

“I can’t understand how people sleep with their phone under their pillow but… don’t do that!” she said. “That’s another good tip, put your phone on the other side of the room!”