By Samantha Chong
Midterms and paper due dates haven’t all passed yet, and with finals coming up, it never seems to end. Have you been getting as much sleep as you would like since everything started? We know all too well how important it is to get enough sleep. In addition to being vital for ensuring physical and mental wellbeing, sleep also plays a role as a protective factor against various health problems and chronic illnesses (Roberts, Roberts & Xing, 2011). But let’s be truthful here – the majority of us have poor sleeping habits. As university students trying to keep up with our lives, getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night has inevitably become one of the many luxuries we cannot afford.
What contributes to our low quality of sleep? A recent study by Zunhammer, Eichhammer and Busch (2014) found that students do in fact shorten their time in bed so that they can spend more time studying. They also found that exam stress is the most profound predictor for poor sleep quality experienced by students, and that some students suffer from symptoms of insomnia during exam period. This finding does make sense, considering the fact that most of us have to balance around 5 courses (and the work load that comes with each), part time jobs, socializing, exercising, and the list goes on. At the end of the day, the only thing we can put off is sleep! It seems to be justifiable from our perspective.
However, this sleep restriction that we impose on ourselves will only do more harm than good in the long run. For example, a recent study showed that it can even do damage to our waistlines. While the relationship between getting enough sleep and aid in weight loss remains unclear, research has found that lack of sleep is partly responsible for our weight gain. Markwald et al. (2012) has shown that sleep loss increases an individual’s food intake; this is a physiological adaptation to provide the body with the energy needed to sustain extended wakefulness. I’m sure most of us have no trouble relating to this. When we find ourselves frequently pulling all-nighters, the stomach growl at 1:00 a.m. leads us to reach for the bag of cookies or that bowl of instant noodles. We are consuming calories to gain energy when we should be sleeping!
Here’s one question I have always pondered: can we ever catch up on our sleep? While the majority of us can’t seem to afford a full sleep cycle on weekdays, we sleep in on weekends with the hopes of compensating for the lack of sleep during the school week. Are these 2 days of extended sleep really sufficient for us to recover from our sleep deprivation? Pejovic et al. (2013) have suggested that this strategy is only partially successful. Their study found that individuals who engaged in this strategy were able to decrease daytime sleepiness, and their overall levels of stress hormone cortisol were reduced. However, the strategy was not sufficient to improve everyday performance, suggesting that more than two days of extended sleep may be required.
Clearly, sleep is a basic need that we all take for granted despite its importance in aiding our daily functions. As a result of a bad night’s sleep, we pay the cost of having to start a brand new day while suffering from sleep deprivation. Getting enough sleep allows the body to rejuvenate itself while the minds is put to rest. To help us place more value on our sleep quality, Schardt (2012) proposed a few sleep remedies worth keeping in mind: regular engagement in exercise (which increases the time spent in slow-wave sleep), yoga, and taking a hot bath before going to bed (which helps to lower body temperature—one of the physiological triggers for sleep).
Now, stop reading and go get some sleep!
Markwald, R. R., Melanson, E. L., Smith, M. R., Higgins, J., Perreault, L., Eckel, R. H., & Wright, K. P. (2013). Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(14), 5695-5700.
Pejovic, S., Basta, M., Vgontzas, A. N., Kritikou, I., Shaffer, M. L., Tsaoussoglou, M., … & Chrousos, G. P. (2013). Effects of recovery sleep after one work week of mild sleep restriction on interleukin-6 and cortisol secretion and daytime sleepiness and performance. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 305(7), E890-E896.
Schardt, D. (2012). Sleep on It. Nutrition Action Health Letter, 39(3), 9-11.
Zunhammer M, Eichhammer P, Busch V (2014) Sleep Quality during Exam Stress: The Role of Alcohol, Caffeine and Nicotine. PLoS ONE 9(10): e109490. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0109490
Samantha is a Psychology major and a research assistant at the Health & Adult Developmental Lab. She hopes to pursue a future career in the field of applied psychology. She enjoys reading novels, and, ideally, spending her weekends exploring cafes or bakeries in Vancouver. She is also a chocoholic and a dog lover.