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By Sarah Pellegrino

Sleep On It

By Sarah Pellegrino Posted March 25, 2013 at 9:59 am

Some mornings I wake up, check Twitter, and see the following: “The struggle is live today” or “I’m captain of the struggle bus this morning.” Did you ever think about what is the cause of the struggle? I’ll tell you: insufficient sleep. College students are probably the worst offenders when it comes to not getting the adequate hours of sleep they need to be productive (and feel good) the next day.

The Shades of Hope Treatment Center recently put out an article about the importance of sleep for college students which found that only 40 percent of adults get the right amount of sleep and only (are you ready for this…) only 11 percent of college students get the right amount of sleep each night. I knew before I did research on this topic that the number would be low, but 11 percent? That is a crazy statistic right there.

I keep saying “the right amount of sleep” and you’re probably wondering what that means. Multiple sources report that the average college student needs 7-8 hours of sleep each night to feel awake and perform at a good level the next day. Now, between you and I, I rarely get that much rest. The days fill up so easily with class, exercising, extracurricular activities, meetings, group projects, and other tasks, that by the time I actually sit in my desk and focus on my homework, it’s at least 9 or 10 pm. I work for a few hours and usually am asleep by 1 am. Then, I’m up early in the morning to run. I know from experience and the people I hang out with, that my scenario is one of the better ones. I see my friends pulling all-nighters and “struggling” through the next day. It is awful to witness, but I find myself at a loss as to how to fix it. I do have an attempt though: a scare tactic with facts and then some helpful tips!

According to the Shades of Hope Treatment Center article, insufficient sleep leads to anxiety, cognitive difficulties (no one wants that), depression, health problems, and weight gain. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather sleep than have any of those.

Here are some helpful tips to implement in your own nightly routine:

  • Exercise in the morning, not at night
  • Come up with a schedule or nightly routine to help your body know when sleep is coming next
  • Plan your day so you can go to bed as early as possible
  • Stay out of your bed during the day (don’t study or eat in your bed) it has to be a place just to sleep
  • Limit your naps (if you take them) to less than one hour and take them before 3 pm
  • Wake up on the weekends (I know this one is difficult, but if you plan to “catch up on sleep” during the weekends, that’s a flawed plan. The more consistent your sleep schedule is the better).
  • Avoid caffeine at night (drink your coffee in the morning and don’t drink soda past dinner time)
  • Adjust the lights (Who doesn’t love a little mood lighting? When it gets to be about 30 minutes before bedtime, turn off the big overhead light in your room.)
  • Don’t eat big meals before bedtime
  • Unplug thirty minutes before bed (This is the hardest yet. Try to power down computers, and put away the phone before bedtime.)

Personally, the last one really resonates with me. Our problem today is that every social media outlet we need is at our fingertips (thank you iPhones). Every night, I dim my lights before bed, I wash my face, get into bed, and the last thing I do is check Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook: The cardinal sin of “before bedtime rituals.” Sadly, most days it works out that before bed is when I have “free, uninterrupted time” to check my social media. I know it’s awful to do before going to sleep, but it’s such a hard habit to break. I promise to try to stop the habit if you do too!

I have yet to talk about the big bad sleep issue, which would be going out to parties/bars, etc. on the weeknights. I personally have never understood how students can go out Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and still function the next day in class (kudos to those of you that can). It’s really important to think about what that pattern is doing to your daily performance though. If you’re not getting home until 2 or 3 am and getting up early for classes, that’s a really unhealthy lifestyle that could have bad effects in the long run. One or two nights of coming home at those hours on the weekend is one thing, but it’s when it’s in excess that it becomes a problem. Just some food for thought for all my college friends out there!

My hope is that you’ll think more about your sleep patterns. If you are truly feeling the struggle during the day, please try some of these tips and see if they help. I hope by reading this you are more aware of your sleep schedule and just how important it is. The saying, “I’ll sleep when I die” is one of my biggest pet peeves. Honestly, that’s just a misinformed statement and not a quote you should live by. Please get the adequate amount of sleep you need. Try planning your day out in the morning and doing work whenever you have free time (during the day) so that your nights are free for relaxation and sleep.

Cheers to a happier and more productive you! Sweet dreams my friends!

Sarah is a junior at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, pursuing a career in sports business or the fitness industry. A group fitness instructor of Muscle Cut at UNC, she ran her first half-marathon last November and is training for her second in April! You can follow Sarah on twitter @SarahPell14.

image by mcbeth via flickr

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