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Health Matters: The Importance of Sleep

While midterms are upon many students in the Mills College community, it is necessary to place emphasis on receiving a healthy amount of sleep each night. (Wikimedia Commons)
While midterms are upon many students in the Mills College community, it is necessary to place emphasis on receiving a healthy amount of sleep each night. (Wikimedia Commons)

Sleep is something that is often pushed to the bottom of a college student’s priority list. Many students get caught up in the cycle of not getting their desired amount of sleep, then expect to “catch up” on sleep over the weekend. This rarely works out, as many students then decide to go out late on the weekends, and stay up late Sunday night to complete their work. So the cycle continues. With responsibilities such as homework, clubs, volunteer work, scholarship applications, sports, work, and maintaining a healthy social life, who has time to consider that their body needs a certain dedicated amount of sleep each and every night? Balance is hard to maintain during the school term and people forget that sleep is a critical part of the balance in their lives, and suffer the consequences when it is not.

There are many ways that lack of sleep can affect a person’s life, besides yawning in class. According to the Nations Sleep Foundation, an adult needs at least seven to nine hours of sleep every night. There are four stages of non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep that are followed by a brief but important stage of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. The first stage of sleep begins when the body starts to relax but can be awakened easily. This is the stage in which many people have a sensation of falling as they try to sleep. In the second sleep stage the body has waves of relaxation, the heart rate slows, and body temperature lowers. This continues as the body prepares for stages three and four, which are the deep sleep phases.

In the final two stages of NREM sleep, a person may feel disoriented or confused when aroused from this deep sleep. After NREM sleep comes REM sleep, in which the eyes may move rapidly and dreams occur. While this excites the brain and makes it active, the muscles are in a paralysis state during REM sleep. As people get older, the amount of REM sleep their body allows them to get is less than the amount an infant gets. This isn’t to say that they need less REM; it means that they sleep for fewer hours and because of that get fewer hours of REM sleep.

Helene Emsellem, director of The Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Md., told NPR in 2012 that the body doesn’t only physically revive itself during the time a person sleeps, the body also needs time to process all that has been taken in during the day. The body also needs sleep in order have a healthy immune system.

According to Dr. Balachandran, a practicing physician and researcher in Connecticut, “The more all-nighters you pull, the more likely you are to decrease your body’s ability to respond to colds or bacterial infections.” Pulling all-nighters can create a vicious cycle: if you get sick during the semester, you have to do more work to catch up on the classwork you missed.

Some tips that may be helpful in balancing life and sleep include keeping a regular sleep schedule that only varies by 60 to 90 minutes, even between weekends and weekdays. This is so the body can get used to a regular schedule. In addition to keeping a regular sleep schedule, try to block out chunks of time regularly for studying. During the time you plan on studying — and before you are planning on going to sleep — try to limit the amount of technology you use. Texting and being on the computer right before you go to sleep can interfere with the ways your body falls asleep. Leaving your phone on during the night is detrimental, not only because of the radiation, but also because it may wake you up as you sleep. Try not to drink any caffeinated beverage three to five hours before you plan on sleeping. Even if you are able to fall asleep, the caffeine can disrupt your normal sleep cycles.

It was interesting to talk to Mills College students to learn how many hours of sleep they get on average, how they feel a loss of sleep makes them feel, and if it affects their school work.

Sonya Kohli said that during crew season she gets somewhere between three to seven hours of sleep a night. When asked if she thought that a loss of sleep effected her school work she said, “yes, aka I fall asleep in class and don’t retain the information.” Kohli said that hopefully when she grows up she will be able to get more sleep, but this is just the way her college life is.

Rachel Patterson said that she needs a minimum of seven hours of sleep to function during the day. When Patterson doesn’t get the amount of sleep that her body needs, she said, “I can’t focus in class, and I have trouble doing homework later also.” Patterson says that for her it isn’t realistic to change her sleeping habits because she does what she needs to do in order to get all her work done. Patterson and Kohli both take naps whenever they can fit them into their day.

Cat Cousins said that on average she gets nine hours of sleep a night. If Cousins doesn’t get her nine hours of sleep she said, “I definitely feel it. If I get less than eight hours of sleep it affects me the next day.” Cousins said that she tries not to take naps because it then messes up her sleep schedule for the following days.

With midterms upon us, keeping up on your sleep is very important for overall health, balance in life, and doing well in your coursework.

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