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College schedules compete with students’ sleep

College students can never seem to get enough sleep. With homework, studying, the Internet, friends and other factors, it seems as though it’s almost impossible for students to sleep the recommended seven to eight-and-a-half hours each night.

“I probably get around five to six hours of sleep a night,” Natalia Isaza Tuzman, a junior, said. “I don’t think people realize just how busy college students are.”

Sleep deprivation has become worse among college students in the last decade, said Dr. Helene Emsellem, director of the Center of Sleep and Wake Disorders at the National Sleep Foundation.

“The underlying culprit is that this is a 24/7 society,” Emsellem said. “It is in a student’s genetics to stay up late into the night and sleep in late. Schools around the country know this. That’s also why many colleges try and bribe students into taking 8 a.m. classes by making those classes required or having the best lecturer’s teach only at that time.”

Based on statistics from the National Sleep Foundation, 18- to 54-year-olds are supposed to get between seven and eight-and-a-half hours a night. However, those people are really getting only 6.8 hours on weekdays and 7.4 hours on weekends.

Dalia Lorenzo, director of Miami Veterans Medical Center and professor of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said the benefits of sleep largely outweigh the need to stay awake.

“If sleep wasn’t important, one-third of our lives would not be dedicated to sleeping,” she said. “Sleep’s main function is to allow the brain to reset or replenish.”

Lorenzo said neurons, or cells in the brain and spinal cord, work overtime when we’re awake, so they need that time to rest and re-energize. She also said lack of sleep affects memory function.

“Someone who gets a good night’s sleep after studying is able to retain information better than someone who is deprived,” Lorenzo said.

But some students feel it’s unrealistic for college students to get the recommended amount of sleep.

“I don’t think it’s really possible to have time for that much sleep every night of the week,” said senior Diana Fundora. “Maybe some days students can sleep eight hours, but certainly not each night. There [are]just too many factors to take into consideration, such as studying and homework.”

Still, other students do believe the recommended hours are attainable.

“I’d say I probably get seven-and-a-half hours of sleep a night,” Ben Brislawn, a senior, said. “Because college students get to choose their own schedule, their sleeping habits are much more flexible and can ultimately be decided by them.”

But even if a student is getting the recommended hours of sleep and still feels drowsy, other factors may be to blame.

Lorenzo said that sometimes when people sleep too long, they may still wake up tired. She said that this is due to something called “sleep inertia,” which happens when someone sleeps too far into stage three sleep.

“Also, many people have sleep disorders that they aren’t even aware of,” Lorenzo said. “If they’ve had it their whole life, they think that’s the norm. Those who are having trouble sleeping should go and get tested for sleep disorders.”

But even if a student isn’t getting enough sleep, the most important thing to keep in mind is regularity.

“Students need to go to sleep around the same time every night and wake up at the same time,” said Ray Winters, a UM psychology professor. “If that schedule is thrown off by sleeping in on weekends, it’s harder to fall asleep come Sunday night. This especially affects students who have early classes on Monday.”

According to the Sept. 17 issue of Newsweek, perpetual lack of sleep is tied to diabetes, heart disease, obesity, depression and a shortened life span in adults. Lack of sleep can be even more deadly for teens; car accidents are the leading cause of death among adolescents, and safety experts believe drowsy driving is a major factor.

“If a person has had 18 hours of sustained wakefulness, their driving is the same as a person legally intoxicated, and that is scary,” Emsellem said. “More than 50 percent of people age 26 or younger account for drowsy driving accidents. Something has to be done about this.”

Yet many students try and cheat sleep with other options. When students don’t get enough sleep during the night, they rely on caffeinated drinks and/or naps.

“It’s a good idea to only use caffeine when it’s really needed so the body stays sensitive to it,” Lorenzo said. “Otherwise, a person’s going to need more and more caffeine as the body keeps adjusting to the intake.”

Taking short naps during the day is also recommended if students are tired. “Power naps” are very short naps, usually only 20 to 30 minutes, to help get the body in sync with the physiological systems.

“I try and take short naps if I have the time,” Isaza Tusman said. “When I don’t get enough sleep, I’m usually in a bad mood and not as productive as I normally am.”

Contact the University of Miami’s Center for Sleep Disorders at 305-243-5195 for more information about abnormal sleeping patterns. Also, Dr. Helene Emsellem may be contacted at sleepdoc@sleepdoc.com for questions or comments concerning Drowsy Driving Prevention Work, which begins Nov. 4.

Erika Capek may be contacted at e.capek@umiami.edu.

Sleep Deprivation Facts

Going 24 hours without sleep is comparable to having a blood alcohol level of .10 which meets or exceeds every state’s standard for being legally drunk, a 2005 study found – Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)

Adults between 18-29 are much more likely to drive while drowsy compared to other age groups – National Sleep Foundation

Men are more likely than women to drive while drowsy (56 percent vs. 45 percent) and are almost twice as likely as women to fall asleep while driving (22 percent vs. 12 percent) – National Sleep Foundation

Forty-three percent of respondents reported that daytime sleepiness interfered with their normal daytime activities, including work – National Sleep Foundation 2000

Almost 74 percent of all Americans do not get enough sleep each night – National Sleep Foundation 2002

Compiled by Erika Capek.

October 11, 2007

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