7 Tips for Students (And the Rest of Us) to Get 7 Hours of Quality Sleep

18 Sep

Sleep.

At first glance, it may seem like a waste of time, especially to those with a go-go-go, Type A personality. There is an obvious recognition that sleep is necessary, but it can also be accompanied by a twinge of guilt since nothing tangible seems to get accomplished after a visit from Mr. Sandman. As a result, people tend to cheat on sleep, in some cases cutting a few hours a night. Instead of the recommended 7 to 9 hours for most teens and adults, many people get only 4 or 5 or 6 hours.

Despite protests to the contrary by many, teens and adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to function at 100-percent capacity.

Despite protests to the contrary, teens and adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to function at 100-percent capacity.

“Most of us think we can get by very well with less sleep, but studies have shown that only a tiny percentage of people can function as well on less than 7 hours of sleep per night,” says Mary Pat Lamberti, assistant professor of nursing at Southern. “It affects us physically, such as our reaction time being reduced; cognitively, not being able to perform as well on tests; emotionally, perhaps being less in control of our emotions; and health-wise, with our immune systems being compromised.”

She says that many myths continue, such as the amount of sleep that young adults need. Some feel that since high school and college students are young and can recover physically from stresses better than older folks, the same must be true for staying up late and getting up early. But the evidence points otherwise, according to Lamberti, who did her doctoral dissertation on sleep among college students. Similarly, the notion that senior citizens need less sleep than the rest of us is also a myth, she says.

Lamberti says that Americans are getting less sleep and reduced sleep quality today than 30 years ago. “This is probably due, at least in part, to our hyper-connected world and the hectic pace of society,” she says.

High school and college students tend to be the worst culprits of sleep deprivation, she says. “There are a lot of demands for their time – school, job, sports, social activities. Those habits learned during adolescence and young adulthood tend to continue in adulthood.”

So, what should we do? Lamberti offers several suggestions to improve sleeping habits.

*Go to bed and get up at about the same time each day. “Your body needs to be trained in terms of when to fall asleep and when to wake up,” she says. “Consistency pays off.”

*Sleep in a darkened room. This signals to the brain that it’s nighttime and time to sleep. Having the TV on, lights on, etc. can trick the brain into thinking it’s still daytime. That may help to keep us up a little longer if we really need to on a given night, but we’ll pay for it.

*Try to avoid watching TV, eating, or reading while in bed. Again, this helps train the brain that when you’re in bed, it’s time to sleep.

*Caffeine should be avoided in the evenings, and for some people, should cease after lunchtime.

*Alcohol and many other drugs affect sleep patterns, resulting in a less-than-refreshing night of sleep.

*On the other hand, exercising helps, especially if it done 4 to 6 hours before sleep. It takes a while to wind down from a hard workout, so avoid strenuous activity immediately before going to bed.

*Turn off the computer a few hours before sleep. The computer stimulates parts of the brain and can delay sleep.

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