Academic deadlines, financial obligations, post-graduation decisions and a host of other issues can take a toll on a college student’s life. However, it’s not only your daily routine that’s at the mercy of fatiguing collegiate rigors – your health and ability to sleep may also be at stake.
Students heavily exposed to stress factors suffer from conditions of sleep deprivation, or not having sufficient time for sleep, and insomnia, the inability to fall and remain asleep.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, primary insomnia, a more burdensome and serious form of the condition, may last up to a month in some people.
However, secondary insomnia, a much lighter and more common form of the condition, affects about eight in 10 people. It manifests as a symptom of other medical conditions such as illnesses, pain, stress, anxiety and depression.
“Its inevitable that we wake up when we experience stress,” said Dr. William Wohlgemuth, a research assistant professor at the Miller School of Medicine’s Center for Sleep Disorders. “During the semester, you have to perform, and after exams are over you get back into a normal routine.”
“On average, the sleep of the student body becomes more disruptive around the midterm exam period from a stress perspective,” he said.
Our ability to not fall asleep in stressful situations may be attributed to an evolutionary trait. If someone didn’t wake up when a lion was roaring nearby, he said, they wouldn’t survive.
Insomnia is commonly mistaken for sleep deprivation. The difference, according to Wohlgemuth, is that insomniacs do budget seven to eight hours of sleep a day, but they cannot fall asleep. Sleep deprivation, in contrast, is not providing enough time for sleep.
“College students are notorious for not having a normal wake and bed time,” said Dr. Rhody Eisenstein, the medical director of the Sleep Medicine and Research Center at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, Missouri. “An erratic sleep routine affects insomnia.”
Eisenstein notes that students unable to fall asleep are practicing poor “sleep hygiene,” or the things that people do to promote good sleep.
“Look at your routine,” Eisenstein said.
Stopping naps during the day, ensuring that you have a dark and quiet environment, covering clocks that may disturb and wake you and ridding your area of distractions are great ways to maximize one’s ability to sleep.
Avoid the intake of drugs that can affect your ability to sleep, Eisenstein added. Drinking and eating foods with caffeine can prohibit sleep if taken even three to five hours beforehand.
Certain medicines designed for people with Attention Deficit Disorder can severely affect our ability to sleep if taken too late at night.
When in bed and trying to fall asleep, don’t keep thinking about what you’re doing the next day.
“If someone turns off the light and they try planning the next day’s schedule, they will find it very hard to sleep,” Eisenstein said. “It would be better to set aside some hours for planning before actually going to bed.”
Analesa Clarke, a pre-doctoral psychology intern at the University of Miami Counseling Center, said that sleeping irregularities are often attributable to “busy schedules, stress and anxiety, as well as medical conditions that are common among college students.”
“We know that insomnia can be related to difficulty managing stress, anxiety and depression,” Clarke said. “Even depression is associated with academic concerns and academic stress. It’s very common on campus.”
Incoming freshmen commonly experience stress attributed to adjusting to college and being away from home, whereas cases of seniors and upperclassmen are associated with making decisions about their lives after graduation.
“More recently with the economic crisis, I’m finding more student concerns about finances, financial aid and finding a job after school,” Clarke said.
The Counseling Center offers numerous solutions for students who may be suffering from insomnia and sleep irregularity.
Individual counseling is available for students to have a one-on-one opportunity with someone who can help them manage stress in their lives. There are also numerous group sessions that focus more on techniques for handling stress and anxiety, such as deep breathing and meditation.
“The client will then leave with a skill set of techniques to try on their own,” Clarke said.
“Anxiety and stress are the most common pressing concerns of students at the Counseling Center and are often associated with a wide range of other psychological concerns,” she said.
“Sleep is a biological need,” Wohlgemuth said. “If you don’t eat enough food or drink enough water, you’re going to be in a phase of water or food deprivation. The same is true with sleep.”
– To make an appointment with the Counseling Center, call 305-284 – 5511 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to make an appointment.
– Easy tips to beat insomnia: don’t drink caffeine three to five hours before sleeping, keep your environment dark and quiet, eliminate distractions, plan your next day before getting in bed to clear your mind, exercise regularly, and see the Counseling Center if the insomnia is prolonged.