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Health Matters: Sleep more, cram less

Final exams are just around the corner and all-nighters, unhealthy eating and irritation may be something students become prone to.

Sleep becomes less of a priority during finals, but Mills psychology professor, Dr. Chung, says it’s the ultimate choice to make. All photos from Flickr.

“I cram for exams, and I know it’s not good, but I do it anyways. I really don’t sleep, but that’s how I function. If I get all eight hours of sleep, I am even more tired the next day,” said junior Christi Fillhart.

However, according to research presented in PBS’s Frontline article “Adolescents and Sleep,” going to bed early is more beneficial than studying all night long.

Cramming for a test is not the best thing to do in order to perform optimally.

Findings from the Stanford Center for Human Sleep Research said staying up all night actually diminishes functioning and performance. Studying while tired is not productive because you cannot fully focus on what you are studying and do not absorb the information. In addition, the next morning, will be too difficult to completely focus and attention and performance will decline.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is categorized into five stages. Each stage of sleep is deeper than the one before it. After the fourth stage of sleep, approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep, a person enters into Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep. In this stage, the mind begins to solidify memories and form dreams. REM sleep is critical to retaining important facts; it consolidates information by replaying it in the unconscious mind. This allows newly learned information to be transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory. Information stored in the long-term memory can be retrieved long after it was first learned, as opposed to short-term memory, which remains for a limited time. This is especially important when studying for exams when students want to remember as much as they can.

“It’s estimated that, on average, less than 50 percent of my students get an adequate night’s sleep,” said Dr. Christie Chung, Assistant Professor of Psychology, said.

Dr. Chung recommends an average of eight hours of sleep per night for optimum performance on tests.

There are other benefits to getting a good night sleep. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adequate sleep makes you less irritable and more focused and it boosts your immune system.

Asha Richardson, a junior, is a commuter and finds it difficult to balance her schoolwork, job and extracurriculars, which has made it hard for her to prioritize sleep.

Dr. Chung recommends that students take a break from studying and take a 15 minute nap to reboot the mind and level of foucs while studying for an exam.

“I know that sleep is important, but it’s really hard to get a good nights rest when there are so many things to do and so many commitments to fulfill. But I try my best to get to bed at a good hour or a least take a nap sometimes” Richardson said.

It is possible to get a healthy amount of sleep, even with the busy schedule that most students have. According to Dr. Chung, it’s essential that students prioritize their activities.

“Begin studying earlier and make a timetable for your studying,” Dr. Chung said.

According to Dr. Chung, it’s important that students are extra attentive to their habits. She offered some healthy tips to stay awake during these times: take a short break, have a healthy snack, go on a walk or take a 15-minute nap.

Studies report that up to 25 percent of college students use Aderall illegally.

Finals can be a very stressful time and, according to a 2003 study published in the medical journal, students might be inclined to fight sleep by taking ADD or ADHD medicine.  A common drug used by students to study  and stay awake is Adderall. For those who do not have ADD or ADHD, it acts as a stimulant.  This relieves fatigue  and allows people to focus intensely on whatever they are studying. And according to the study, up to 25 percent of all college students use Adderall illegally to boost cognitive performance. In 2008, the Center for Substance Abuse Research found that, in a group of 1200 college freshmen, Adderall was the most popular drug taken to enhance mental performance.

However, Dr. Chung said that, in order to succeed during finals and stay healthy, sleep and time management is essential. It might be hard to get into that routine, but according Dr. Chung cramming and sleep deprivation hardly ever do any good.

Health Matters is a column written by the second-year nursing students participating in the Nursing Leadership class.