Picture credit: Sleep Deprivation
By: Katelynn Fleming
We’ve all heard it before: we need 8-10 hours of sleep per night. However, with everything we need to get done between work, family and friends, and that tyrannous GPA, 8-10 hours of sleep is nearly as unrealistic as the dreams we wish we slept long enough to experience. The health center at the University of Georgia reports that most college students get an average of 6-7 hours of sleep, yet with the semester wrapping up and finals fast approaching, I am getting around 5 or 6 hours per night, and daytime naps are becoming a necessity. It is no wonder that even interesting classes and activities are hard to sit through and it is easier to get sick. Even so, there are some things we can do to maximize our ability to perform well while sleep deprived, and get the best sleep for our time.
- Limit caffeine use to the morning. Yes, I know that to many people coffee seems like something you cannot do without, so I won’t badger you now to give it up altogether. However, according to psychologist Dr. Travis Bradberry, caffeine stays in your system for a full 24 hours, decaying slowly, so if you drink coffee past noon the caffeine is still at just under half capacity when you go to sleep at night, making it harder to fall asleep and destroying the quality of your sleep.
- Wake up at the same time every morning. Dr. Bradberry also points out that an hour before you wake up, your brain begins to wrap up your sleep cycle and raises your hormone levels, body temperature, and blood pressure. That slow waking process can only happen if your brain knows about when an hour before you wake up will be, which means keeping your wake-up time consistent is really important and sleeping in is actually counterproductive.
- Take a short nap in the afternoon. Rather than changing your wake-up time or drinking caffeine, Dr. Bradberry reveals that if you did not get enough sleep the night before, your body cannot fight the surge in melatonin (a hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness) that comes around 1 to 3 p.m. The National Sleep Foundation advises a catnap of 15-20 minutes, which has been shown to give the benefits of napping without causing excessive grogginess on waking. Alternatively, a 90 minute nap will allow you to complete one full sleep cycle and wake feeling refreshed with a memory and creativity boost. But do not forget to set an alarm, because sleeping for 30-60 minutes or longer than 90 minutes can mean you wake up in the middle of a deep sleep cycle, negating most of the benefits of your nap.
- Get physical activity. I know. . . just one more “to-do” to add to the list; but according to the Center for Counselling and Psychological Services, getting 20-40 minutes of physical activity per day boosts your immune system, mood, and mental alertness and performance.Those are the things that sleep deprivation impairs, besides improving your ability to cope with being sleep deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Taking a short walk, jog or stretch in between classes can help you stay awake when your body would rather you were not.
- Learn to meditate. Mindfulness has been shown to cut in half the time it takes to fall asleep, reduce or eliminate insomnia and provide a more relaxed state in general, according to Dr. Bradberry. Both when trying to fall asleep and to stay awake, mindfulness helps you take a deep breath – literally – to reduce stress and improve focus.
- Reach out to others for support and encouragement. A social life can often get pushed to the bottom of your list of priorities, but the National Sleep Foundation writes that in times of exhaustion, having a support network to commiserate with you, advise you and encourage you can make you feel a lot better emotionally.