Maybe you’re the college student that takes naps upon naps upon naps, or maybe you’re the student running on four hours of sleep at a time or, worse, pulling all-nighters. Even though most of us know the recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-9 hours, we don’t always know exactly why this is the recommended amount.
If you’ve ever laid in bed tossing and turning you can probably guess how you’ll feel the next day- tired, cranky or even irritable. That’s because lack of sleep disrupts your body’s normal mental and physical functions.
As if college wasn’t stressful enough, a lack of sleep could increase your levels of anxiety and negatively impact your academic performance. This is because, during sleep, connections are made between neurons, storing all the new information you’ve learned. Sleep deprivation decreases your brain’s capability to store information and, later, to concentrate on new tasks. Your abilities to control your emotions and make decisions are also adversely impacted as a result of sleep deprivation. This could negatively skew your reactions to daily events.
College is a hotbed for illnesses and, while we all know washing your hands regularly can fend off sickness, did you know sleep could prevent you from getting sick too? Your immune system produces protective substances that fight off invaders like bacteria and viruses. These protective substances don’t get produced if you’re not getting an adequate amount of sleep, meaning your body will be more susceptible to infection and it may take you longer to heal from infection.
Sleep influences the levels of two important hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Leptin signals your brain when you’ve had enough to eat, ghrelin stimulates your appetite. Without sleep, your brain reduces leptin and increases ghrelin, causing you to feel endlessly hungry. This, combined with constant fatigue due to lack of sleep, can contribute to weight gain.
Uninterrupted sleep is also the time your body produces hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone, which help build and repair muscles and tissues. Even though the pituitary gland releases human growth hormone all the time, sleep and exercise induce its release. Sleep makes you stronger!
How do I get more sleep?
Now that you know how important sleep is, here are some tips for getting more (and better) sleep.
- Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule, even for the weekends. Sleeping a little extra on the weekends can throw off your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock).
- Establish a nighttime routine. Try soaking in a bath, taking a hot shower, reading a book or listening to soothing music. Having a routine can help you fall asleep quicker each night.
- Ditch your electronics. Avoid watching TV, using a laptop and perusing your cellphone before bed. The blue light from screens affects melatonin, making it harder for you to fall asleep.
- Create an environment conducive to sleep: dark, comfortable, cool and quiet.
- Finish eating and exercising at least 2-3 hours before bed.
- Avoid nicotine and alcohol.