Sleepiness harmful to health, grades
Sleep is one of the body’s most natural and necessary processes, yet 28.5 percent of Arkansans have trouble getting enough sleep, according to the Center for Disease Control.
The CDC recommends adults sleep seven to nine hours per night. Insufficient sleep can lead to physical and mental deterioration. It can also hinder academic performance.
“I think people don’t realize how important sleep is,” said Marie Sandusky, advanced practice nurse with Health Services. “It’s as important as drinking water or getting food.”
Sleep is essential to health. Sleeping helps your body regain energy, repair muscles, regulate hormones and process memories, the National Sleep Foundation said.
Sleep loss can lead to long-term health problems, including diabetes, obesity and heart problems, it said. In addition, the National Sleep Foundation found that sleep loss can hinder the immune system. This means that students who do not get enough sleep are more likely to catch colds and other illnesses, which can lead to missed school days.
Sleep also has a dramatic effect on mental functioning. A clinical review entitled “Sleep loss, learning capacity and academic performance” found that students are chronically sleep deprived, and that this sleep deprivation can have severe academic consequences. Sleepiness reduces mood, attention, memory and problem-solving skills, all of which are necessary for students to succeed, it said. Therefore, students who skimp on sleep will have more difficulty in class than their well-rested counterparts.
Mike Kirk, the director of UALR’s Counseling and Career Planning Services, said he believes sleep deprivation is a major problem among students. Students may be unable to sleep because of physiological needs or a changing environment, he said. He added that, on weekends, students may socialize instead of catching up on sleep. “I’ve always been a morning person, but when I was in college, my group that I ran with stayed up later – I stayed up later,” he said.
There is no match for a good night’s sleep, but, in a pinch, students can nap to re-energize their bodies and minds. Napping for 20 to 30 minutes during the day can improve alertness, mood and performance, the National Sleep Foundation said. Short naps and caffeine can improve performance at night jobs and help people avoid drowsy driving, it said. However, it added that napping can have negative effects as well, like grogginess or disorientation upon waking. Napping late in the day can also make it harder to sleep at night.
Sleepy students may use energy drinks to make up for missed sleep. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration is investigating deaths allegedly related to energy drinks. Although a moderate dose of caffeine is not harmful, too much caffeine can lead to jitters, dehydration, dependency and cardiovascular problems, the FDA said. It added that drinking caffeine during the day can make it difficult to sleep at night.
“You end up kind of being on a roller coaster with your energy levels,” Sandusky said, “it doesn’t create a healthy, organic balance of energy that’s going to be sustainable over time.”
Kirk agreed that relying on energy drinks was not the way to go. “There’s probably not a shortcut to make up for lack of good nutrition, regular exercise and regular sleep,” he said.
With work, students can get enough nighttime sleep and reduce their need for caffeine. Routine is very important to sleep, and it helps to maintain a regular sleeping schedule and bedtime routine, the National Sleep Foundation said. It also noted the importance of a comfortable bedroom and of regular exercise. In addition, it said, people should avoid exercise, food, alcohol and nicotine for a few hours before they sleep. Students should also keep a sleep diary if they are having trouble sleeping, Sandusky added.
Between homework at night and classes in the morning, sleep may seem elusive and impractical. The evidence suggests that getting enough sleep is worth it, however. An early bedtime could be the key to passing that 8 a.m. class.