Despite many college students’ efforts to get good sleep, many still battle with insomnia, especially during exams when stress levels are high.
If we visit every college campus during exam season, we’ll notice that most students stay glued to their books all night, no matter if they’re in the library room or the bedroom. Usually, all universities have at least one study room open 24/7, allowing students to hit the books when they find it right. Even if most of the students know sleep deprivation is bad, they’re willing to sacrifice it for good grades. They tell themselves they need to survive just a few weeks of exams and then they can go back to sleeping 12 hours a day.
The CDC recommends all adults and teens clock 7 or 8 hours of sleep a night because if they receive less, it can have a negative influence on their academic performance.
The significance of sleep
BC Heights conducted a study of sleeplessness and concluded a lack of sleep triggers various health problems. Sleep deprivation drops the number of white blood cells in the body and affects the body’s immune system.
For the average individual, sleep is important because it restores the immune system and body, but for students, its role is more special. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states that sleep is important for survival, brain development and optimal mental processing. NINDS also reveals that lack of sleep lowers the ability to concentrate, affects memory, and impairs physical performance abilities. If sleep deprivation extends over a long period, it can cause hallucinations and drastic mood swings.
Some studies even claim that during sleep, neurons take some time to shut down and repair themselves. When students deprive themselves of sleep, they deplete their neurons from energy and pollute their normal cellular activities. Because their brain has no time to rest and regenerate, it loses its ability to function optimally.
If you’re a student you sleep erratically
Do you know what it means to have a good sleep routine? No? Well, you’re not alone. Students tend to sleep erratically because of different class schedules, part-time jobs, social activities and hobbies. You adapt to irregular sleep cycles that affect both your academic performance and mental and physical health.
You think you make up for your lack of sleep during the week by “catching up” over the weekends, but this impacts your sleep cycles even more. The Brigham and Women’s Hospital studied the effects a regular bedtime has on people’s lives, and it found out that not only the number of hours slept affects academic performance, but also the circadian rhythms.
They studied 60 undergraduate students over a month using sleep diaries to identify and quantify sleep regularity. At the end of the period, they analyzed the connection between sleep duration, sleep regularity index, distribution of sleep across the day, and how they impact academic performance.
Andrew J.K. Philips, Biophysicist at the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders states that going to bed and waking up at approximately the same hours is as important as sleeping 7 or 8 hours a night. The study also concluded that students who adopt healthy sleep patterns have better school grades than those who deprive themselves of sleep.
What about the circadian clock?
The same study we mentioned above states the circadian clock is three hours late in people who have irregular sleeping patterns. If you have inconsistent sleep and wake times, the exam scheduled for 8 a.m. is actually occurring at 5 a.m. according to your circadian clock—so your performance is impaired with your time.
Your circadian clock is basically your body’s clock, and it needs time to adjust to changes in your schedule. This is why you find so difficult to get up from the bed during exam season. The patterns of light exposure also influence your body clock. Your body registers and recognizes the light it’s exposed to during the day, so when you change this pattern, it falls out of whack.
How to improve your sleep?
You’re more likely to perform badly if you stay up on school nights and make up for it during weekends. So, learn to build a healthy sleep cycle.
Even if you have 10 books to read until your exam, reading at night won’t help you learn because you’ll be too tired to memorize information. You get better results if you go to bed early and get a full night of sleep. Adults need seven or eight hours of sleep each night, so do your best to get them.
If your bed isn’t comfortable enough to facilitate a comfortable and restful sleep, you should adorn it with a comfortable mattress because your sleep environment highly influences your quality of sleep. It’s known that dorm beds aren’t the most comfortable ones, but you can replace the mattress with a new one that helps you get the sleep you need to boost your academic performance.
When you find it hard to fall asleep you should get out of the bed and do something that helps your body relax and get tired at the same time. A run in the park, a walk outside the dorm, or a hot shower may work wonders.
You should never study, read or watch TV in bed because your brain will no longer associate it with a sleep state. You should stay out of the bed for all these activities, and save it for bedtime.
Limit your naps. If you need to rest when studying you should do it before 3 p.m., and nap for less than 60 minutes.
And stay away from caffeine. Even if it helps you energize your body, it stays in your system hours after you ingest it and it makes more difficult to fall asleep.
If you think you have a sleep disorder, see a sleep specialist—they can diagnose any underlying sleep disorders and help you get better rest.