ABRAHAM: Getting enough sleep cannot be overstated
Opinions Column: Code Wellness
College students are notorious for “pulling all nighters.” Oftentimes the numerous academic, social and personal commitments render it nearly impossible to get everything done before midnight. So we tend to sacrifice our sleep in order to complete other obligations. Despite this, we must realize that sleep is necessary for survival. Sleep enables the body to conserve energy, relieve tension and stress, in addition to preventing fatigue. Sleep is imperative for adequate mental and psychological functioning.
There are several health implications associated with sleep deprivation, many of which we may have experienced first-hand. When sleep-deprived, we can become less focused and vigilant, so our ability to process and receive information becomes impaired. A lack of sleep can affect our physical, mental and motor functioning. A study written in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine found that sleep deprivation produces impairments in both cognitive and motor performances equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. In other words, whether one is sleep-deprived or drunk, the effects are relatively similar. Moreover, researchers have found that poor sleep quality and shorter sleep duration was associated with shorter telomeres. Well why is this important? There is a lot of research and debate on the role that telomeres have in aging, susceptibility to disease and death. Simply put, many believe that the shortening of telomeres is associated with aging, cancer and a higher risk of death. In our case, chronic sleep deprivation and poor quality of sleep may increase the likelihood of experiencing adverse health effects. Other consequences of sleep deprivation may include gastrointestinal disturbances, weight gain, poor concentration and alertness, decreased performance, slower reaction time, which increases the risk for an automobile injury and an occupational injury and an overall poor quality of life. Chronic sleep deprivation may increase one’s overall risk for developing severe medical conditions such as stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School suggests inadequate sleep may lead to Type 2 diabetes mellitus by influencing the way that glucose is processed in the body. Maren Nyer and colleagues (2013) found that college students with symptoms of depression and sleep disorders experienced a greater burden of co-morbid anxiety symptoms and hyper-arousal compared to students with depressive symptoms without sleep disorders. From this, we know that a lack of sleep affects not only one’s physical functioning, but also one’s emotional and mental functioning.
So how much sleep do we need? The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) provides a new set of recommendations based on age groups. For Newborns (0 to 3-month-olds), sleep recommendations were 14 to 17 hours each day. Infants (4 to 11-month-olds), the NSF recommends 12 to 15 hours per day. Toddlers (1 to 2-year-olds), 11 to 14 hours per day. Preschoolers (3 to 5-year-olds), 10 to 13 hours per day. School age children (6 to 13-year-olds), 9 to 11 hours per day. Teenagers (14 to 17-year-olds), eight to 10 hours per day. Young adults (18 to 25-year-olds), seven to nine hours per day. Adults (26 to 64-year-olds), seven to nine hours per day. Lastly, the NSF recommends seven to eight hours of sleep per day for older adults ages 65 and older.
While getting seven to nine hours of sleep per day might seem difficult, here are some tips that might help. For starters, limit caffeine intake prior to bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant that is prevalent in a variety of foods and drinks, including coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks and chocolate. Avoid consuming a large meal immediately before bedtime. Regular exercise is highly beneficial for one’s overall health and can help you to sleep better. But do not exercise immediately before going to sleep, and instead finish any vigorous physical activity three to four hours before going to sleep. Avoid long naps during the day. Establish a regular sleep schedule and consider establishing a regular nighttime routine. Make your environment as comfortable as possible. This includes adjusting the light, sound and temperature if possible. For some, a calm environment with soothing music may help. In hospitals, some patients listen to the sounds of the ocean or a waterfall, which is both therapeutic and helpful when falling asleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends avoiding bright lights in the evening and exposing yourself to sunlight in the morning, as this can help regulate your circadian rhythm. For some individuals, the bright light that emanates from the screens of laptops, televisions, cell phones and tablets may make it more difficult to fall asleep. The NSF explains that the light from these devices activate parts of the brain. Hence, if one has trouble sleeping, then avoid electronics immediately before bed.
While it may be difficult to calculate how much of one’s performance is affected by inadequate sleep, there is evidence that chronic lack of sleep does lead to poor performance. Receiving an adequate amount of sleep in college and in adulthood is and will be difficult, but developing healthy sleeping habits can help prevent the vicious cycle of chronic sleep deprivation.
Cilgy Abraham is a Rutgers School of Nursing senior. Her column, "Code Wellness," runs on alternate Mondays.
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