If sleep were a credit card company, many of us would be in deep trouble. Medical evidence suggests that for optimum health and function, the average adult should get seven to nine hours of sleep daily. But nearly 70 percent of college students reported that they sleep less than eight hours a night. “Sleep debt” refers to how much shut eye you ‘owe’ your body if you’ve been sleeping too little. Sleep debt can be acute or chronic, the later leading to fatigue, which can impact on daily life, including work performance, health and your mood.
Sleep debt is a real issue! Sleep problems rank third on students’ list of issues that affect their academic success. Between classes, exams, work, extracurricular and social activities, and homework, college students are not getting enough sleep each night. Sleep debt can snowball fast. The more sleep deprived you are, the less likely you might be to notice. So how do you know—and how do you fix it?
The simplest way to tell if you’re racking up sleep debt is to do the math. If the average young adult needs eight hours of sleep each night and you get only six most days of the week, by the time Friday rolls around you’re 10 hours in debt. Here are some other signs you might be in sleep debt:
• You can’t sit through a lecture without getting drowsy or even nodding off.
• You fall asleep the second your head hits the pillow.
• You don’t wake up until the second your alarm goes off.
• You feel drowsy during downtime, like while reading or watching TV.
Then, how to get out of debt?
The most realistic way to get out of sleep debt is by preventing it in the first place. Here’s how:
1. 15 minutes earlier to bed; 15 minutes later to rise. Try to make small schedule changes like getting to bed 15 minutes earlier and streamlining your morning routine so you can sleep 15 minutes longer. You just clocked 30 more minutes.
2. Learn to love the nap. Studies show that students who take more naps do better in class. College students with GPAs of 3.5 and higher were much more likely to be nappers than were their peers with lower GPAs. Just make sure you don’t snooze after 3 p.m. because that can throw off your nighttime sleep.
3. Be consistent. You want to try to prevent sleep debt by getting into good sleep habits—so it’s not great to fall back on the idea that you can make up all that lost sleep on the weekends. Don’t sleep more than one to two hours longer on the weekend than you do during the week. If you sleep until 1 p.m. on Sunday, it makes it hard for you to fall asleep by the time you need to get enough sleep for Monday.
4. Keep your tech at arm’s length. The blue light emitted from your laptop or phone suppresses your levels of melatonin, a hormone that affects your circadian rhythms. If you’re not going to unplug entirely, at least switch on your phone’s blue light filter and don’t hold it so close to you.
5. Get in a Zen zone. Meditation can be really good for helping people transition into sleep. To help you keep a consistent sleep schedule, make your bed into a relaxing sleep oasis. Do not study on your bed. Let your bed be for sleeping only!
|▲ Yang Hyun-ju, Assistant Professor, Department of Nursing
By Yang Hyun-ju, Assistant Professor, Department of Nursing