Tag Archives: #sleep

Reasons why we should not schedule ourselves for 8:00 a.m. classes

Image: Katherine Squier via Flickr – Creative Commons License

As children, many of us were designated early bed-times by our parents. For the most part, it was easy for us at that age to go to bed accordingly, but in the process to becoming adolescents, we find ourselves struggling to abide by these schedules and likely ended up abandoning them. As a result, we also struggle with waking up early and performing optimally for those early morning classes.  While some adults may blame that on a student’s lack of discipline, multiple studies have shown that biological factors are at play, and why shifting our school schedules can be beneficial for us.

As most of us know, sleep is crucial for children, but what is often underestimated is the amount of sleep required for optimal functioning in adolescents as well. Most professionals in the field, including Mary A. Carskadon, Ph.D., director of Sleep Research at Bradley Hospital, agree that adolescents and young adults require the same amount of sleep that children do, which ranges from about 8.5 to 9.25 hours a night. The problem, however, is that due to their increased responsibilities, school workload, and extra-curricular activities, adolescents rarely are able to obtain this amount on a regular basis. In her article, “When Worlds Collide: Adolescent Need for Sleep Versus Societal Demands,” Dr. Carskadon outlines the societal demands that conflict with adolescents’ biological clock for optimal sleep times, including early school starting times competing with our circadian rhythms.

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In this short video, Dr. Katrena Lacey discusses the main points of how teenagers’ sleep habits differ from that of children and adults. All the factors listed by Dr. Lacey contribute to the problem with adolescents’ lack of sleep.

One research study attempted to solve the issue regarding adolescent sleep deprivation. The recent study was performed by psychologist and sleep expert, Julie Boergers, Ph.D., on 557 adolescents at a coeducational residential school by shifting their school’s starting time from 8:00 a.m. to 8:25 a.m. These students filled out the School Sleep Habits Survey (SSHS), a widely used survey in the US and other countries, at three equivalent time points in their school terms to compare the effects on their sleep-wake behaviours, functioning, school participation, physical and psychological health, and even caffeine use.

What they found through statistical analysis of the SSHS was an increase in sleep duration by 29 minutes, which makes logical sense due to the later start-time for school. The significant statistical finding, however, is an increased number of students obtaining over eight hours of sleep per night (from 18% to 44% of students). Overall, these students noted reduced daytime sleepiness, feelings of depression, and caffeine consumption.

Although this study showed no substantial improvement in grades and academic performance, it puts a strong case forward for shifting our school schedules just about half an hour later to reap the benefits of a good night’s sleep. For those of us who feel that sleeping earlier is nearly impossible, this study gives them good reason to start school later, mitigating sleep deprivation that seems to be such a big problem in our college lifestyle.

Napping – Not Just for Children and the Elderly

Although napping is usually associated with young children and older adults, napping is a growing phenomenon among healthy adults! There are many reasons why people choose to take naps during the day; more and more adults are suffering from sleep deprivation and therefore get tired during the day and may take a nap, whereas others are simply looking for a way to relax.

Most mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers. This means that they sleep multiple times throughout the 24 hours of the day for short periods at a time. However, humans are monophasic sleepers. We sleep once a day for a prolonged period of time. We follow the circadian biological clock that is controlled by cells in the hypothalamus of our brains. The circadian cycle includes a “hump” of sleepiness that occurs during the mid-afternoon. This is another reason why individuals often get sleepy during the day. To deal with this “hump,” individuals either take caffeine, get more nighttime sleep or take naps. Studies have shown that naps are the most effective solution.

Naps can counteract the effects of sleep deprivation. Taking a nap can maintain and even improve alertness, performance, vigilance and cognitive functions. A study conducted at the National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration (NASA) on sleepy astronauts and military pilots showed that by simply taking a 40 minute nap, their performance and alertness had improved by 34% and 100% respectively. Planned naps for older adults may help with functioning and those who have narcolepsy may actually be prescribed with scheduled napping.

The length of the nap has different beneficial effects. A 10-20 minute nap increases performance such as motor skills and alertness. A nap longer than 20 minutes can assist in memory recall as well as enhance creativity. This is especially true for recalling information learned just before taking the nap. Napping for 30-60 minutes enhances decision-making skills like the skill to memorize vocabulary or remember directions. Whereas a nap that lasts 60-90 minutes helps make new connections in the brain and solve creative problems.

Here are some tips to follow for your next nap:

  1. Find a dark, quiet place – this will help you fall asleep faster!
  2. Keep your naps 20-30 minutes long – short naps have the most benefits. Longer naps may lead to sleep inertia and cause post-sleep grogginess or disorientation that may leave you feeling even more tired than before your nap.
  3. Plan and be consistent – the best time to nap is in the middle of the day from 1-3PM.
  4. Drink your caffeine at the right time – it takes some time for the effects of caffeine to start.
  5. Don’t feel guilty! – napping can make you more productive.

The following video “How to Power Nap” by DNews gives some more helpful information and tips on napping:

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Happy napping!

– Kathy Tran