WC Wakes Up to Poor Habits

By Emily Blackner
Elm Staff Writer

Bleary-eyed students shuffle into morning classes, yawning and clutching coffee cups daily at WC. While getting a good night’s sleep isn’t at the top of most college students’ agendas, it is important for physical and mental health to develop appropriate sleeping habits.

According to Dr. Lauren Littlefield, chair of the Psychology Department, young adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
“What one person may need to feel rested could be different from another,” she said. “If you feel okay and clear-headed during the day after seven hours and do not feel like you need to nap, then seven hours works for you.”

However, many WC students don’t get that much sleep. Junior Johnny Helenek said, “I get about seven hours per night.”

Freshman Dakota Barrow said she gets “six to seven” hours of sleep, and senior Mandy Moore and sophomore Emma Jackovitz reported sleeping for “seven hours.”

“I definitely need more sleep,” Barrow said.

Helenek agreed, “No, it’s absolutely not enough sleep for me.”

Moore said for her, “It depends on the day and how early I have to get up.”

With answers like that, it is easy to see that sleep deprivation is a major issue for college students. In fact, “a 2001 study showed that [only] 11 percent of college students have good sleep quality,” as reported by students in WC’s Psychology Department in the course of their own sleep studies.
A traditional sleep study, Littlefield explained, “is called polysomnography. Sleep studies involve measurement of several physiological changes across a full night of sleep. These include measurement of muscle movements, pattern of respiration, heart rhythm, eye movements, and perhaps most importantly, brain activity. The collected information is interpreted by knowing what normal measurements are. Measures that are out of the typical range are interpreted to see what diagnostic pattern is present.”

However, Littlefield noted, “We do not have a traditional sleep lab here at WC, [so] any recent work we have done on the topic of sleep deals with questions of what are the effects of sleep deprivation?”

“A few years ago, students mentored by Jim Siemen examined the adverse cognitive impact of sleep deprivation,” she continued. “They kept people awake in the [Toll] atrium overnight to see how well they performed on repeated testing. Also a few years ago, a team of students taking a course on the mental status exam performed a study on the amount of sleep and cognitive performance. In other words, students were asked whether they felt fatigued and how many hours of sleep they had the previous night. Then, they were given a short cognitive test battery.”

Recent WC grads Cole S. Eshbach, Shaina Garrison, Sarah Ofosu-Ameyaw, and Joe Sabasteanski were involved with the latter study looking at the effects of sleep deprivation on students. They reported their findings at a meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association.

This study, as recorded in a poster made about the research, was designed to investigate “the effects of fatigue and time of day on cognitive capabilities of individuals.”

“Sixty-nine college volunteers were administered a standardized neurobehavioral-screening test to better understand how time of day and self-rated fatigue impact cognitive functioning,” the abstract continued. “Participants were divided into two groups, morning or evening, based on time of testing. Results confirmed diminished cognitive functioning for students tested in the morning. The study also demonstrated that specific mental processes like language and orientation were more likely to be influenced by mental fatigue than others.”

Littlefield added that, in addition to those effects on mental processes, lack of sleep can impact other areas of student life.

“Sleep deprivation is directly linked to emotional and cognitive dysfunction, in addition to the obvious physical tiredness one experiences,” she said. “People tend to become irritable and less likely to cope well with stress. People have trouble concentrating and may have trouble finding the words they want to say, or write down on a test. In other words, thinking tends to be unclear. Severe deprivation can cause some serious accidents (such as when driving when tired) and can cause strange symptoms like hallucinations.”

The National Sleep Foundation warns that “short sleep duration” is linked with other adverse affects such as increased appetite and higher body mass index, increased risk of diabetes, heart problems, depression, and substance abuse, and a decreased ability to concentrate or retain new information.
Students are well aware of the things that keep them from going to bed.

Jackovitz blamed “sports and schoolwork,” while Moore said that for her, the main culprit is “homework or when I stay up to watch TV.” Helenek reported that for him, it was “video games and anything non-academic.”

Junior Jesse Schaefer said, “I may be an uncharacteristic student because I rarely get less than 8 hours of sleep each night. This has varied across semesters because it depends on how busy I am with coursework and extra-curricular activities.”

“I regulate my sleep by always waking up at the same time each morning on weekdays,” she added. “Sleeping in throws me off schedule. Even if I don’t have morning classes, I use my mornings to get work done so I don’t have to stay up late, as I am a morning person.”

Schaefer’s strategy of keeping a sleep routine is recommended as a way to improve sleeping habits.

Littlefield also advised,“try to sleep enough so you don’t have to nap. If you do nap, nap at least four hours before your bedtime and keep the nap to 20-30 minutes. Try to stay away from caffeine and energy drinks (especially past noon). If you have trouble sleeping, get out of bed- do not let your bed be associated with not sleeping; get up and study or hang out for a while and then get back in bed when you feel tired again.”

February 25, 2011
Volume LXXXI Issue 16

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