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Overcoming Sleep Deprivation: Quality Over Quantity

As of 2 am on November 5th, Daylight Savings Time officially ended, sparking responses ranging from joy over the extra hour of sleep to complaints over the darker afternoons. This time change is another reminder of how much sleep you may or may not be getting. But we’re all young college students and who needs sleep anyway, right? Many of us spend our nights either hopped on caffeine, trying to break through writer’s block, or de-stressing at a crowded Mod party late into the night. But the truth is, most of us need to make some serious changes in our sleeping habits.

At this point in life, we know that sleep is important in a generic sense, but just how important is it? Sleep impacts all aspects of your life, extending even further than just your physical condition. Sleep deprivation can cause lethargic behavior, lack of motivation, impaired brain activity, reduced creativity, and even compromised stress coping abilities. In fact, sleep deprivation also can cause you to have a weakened immune system, impaired motor skills, and increased risk of serious diseases, like stroke or diabetes. Obviously, sleep is a crucial daily activity, but there is a clear line between enough sleep and too little sleep that can indicate when it is time to put down the coffee and get under the covers.

As you may have realized from personal experience, the amount of time you spend sleeping decreases as you get older. While this may seem like a direct result of the steady increase in school work and extracurricular activities, it is actually a natural, biological change that takes place as you age. According to the National Institutes of Health, babies initially sleep as much as 16-18 hours per day whereas school-age children and teens need 9.5 hours a night on average. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but after age 60, sleep cycles tend to be shorter and more interrupted.

So, yes, we are supposed to be up later and sleeping less as college students, but how far can this go? On average, most college students get 6-6.9 hours of sleep per night, nearly a whole three hours less than recommended, which can significantly impact daily life. Helpguide.org states that, “if you’re getting less than eight hours of sleep each night, chances are you’re sleep deprived.” In fact, college students are among the most sleep-deprived age group in the US.

Although this may mean that the majority of college students are sleep deprived, there is still hope to redeem all those lost hours of beauty sleep. While it may be difficult to get more hours of sleep, improving the quality of the minimal sleep you get may help to mitigate those shorter periods of rest. Most major health organizations recommend sticking to a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine, sugar and alcohol, and keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. However, if we are going to be realistic, most of those factors are unattainable with our hectic schedules, uncontrollable cravings, and unpredictable roommates. Yet there are still even smaller changes you can make in your life to improve your slumber that are much more practical.

It can be difficult to find motivation to make the trek to the Plex, especially if you live on upper. But it looks like that trek is even more necessary to embark on because not only can exercise help your cardiovascular strength and keep you in shape, but exercising 20 to 30 minutes a day can also help you get a good night’s sleep. This exercise is critical, but should be done no later than a few hours before you go to bed.

Relaxing before bed is another key way to get good quality sleep. Although BC dorms may not have bathtubs and all candles are forbidden, alternatives such as reading or listening to music can work just as well. And if you really need candlelight in order to relax I recommend investing in some fake, battery-powered candles (not only do they give off that real candle glow, but some can even change colors!).

Working this relaxation into your bedtime routine is essential to improving your quality of sleep and can help reduce the chances of waking up feeling unrested. This consists of more than just adding relaxing activities to your routine, it also requires eliminating stressful conditions or activities before sleep. Avoid work, emotional conversations, and TV, laptop and phone screens before getting into bed. Although watching Netflix may seem like the perfect way to destress and prepare your mind for sleep, it can actually negatively impact your sleeping habits. The Huffington Post article “Why Netflix and Sleep Don’t Mix,” describes how watching Netflix before bed, in addition to the use of other devices, is a form of sleep procrastination which pushes bedtimes further back. In fact, “90% of Americans use their devices within the hour before they go to bed at least a few nights a week.” College students in particular lose an average of 46 minutes of sleep per night due to phone usage. Blue light emitting from our phone and laptop screens signals our brains to stay active late into the night, negatively impacting our sleep.

If you are like me, watching Netflix before going to sleep is one hard habit to break, but luckily there is a way to filter out the blue light coming from our screens and prepare our brains for sleep. If you use Apple products, such as iPhones or Macbooks, there is an option called Night Shift that lowers the amount of blue light your screen is emitting, which in turn will help you sleep better.

Correcting sleeping habits is a goal that all BC students should take seriously, particularly because of our infamous busy schedules and active lifestyles. Sleep is critically important in order to function and feel at your best. Remember to shoot for seven to nine hours of sleep per night and take steps to improve the quality of your sleep. Although the end of Daylight Savings Time may have given us all an extra hour of sleep, it has little impact in the long run. In order to truly improve our habits and quality of life we have to turn off the Netflix, turn on the battery-powered candles, and get some real rest. While recognizing and understanding the importance of better sleeping habits in our academic and social lives, we, as students at BC, need to take small practical steps to enforce these small, crucial changes.

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