Putting bad sleep habits to rest

By Kyle Rich

It’s not a secret that college students are one of the most sleep-deprived demographics. Juggling work, classes and an active social life can leave little time for sleep.

Colleges and researchers have long recognized the negative consequences of sleep deprivation and are looking to bring more attention to the issue so they can finally put bad sleeping habits to bed.

Karen Newton, director of health promotion at the University of Louisville, resolved to tackle the problem head-on with sleep workshops. Started five years ago, the “Z’s for A’s” program focused primarily on nighttime sleep. The sessions were relatively effective, but students claimed they still couldn’t fit eight to 10 hours of sleep into

their schedules.

Newton decided to reach out to Louisville doctor and clinical psychologist Brian Monsma, an expert on how to nap. “Flash nap” workshops were started this school year on U of L’s campus to catch students’ attention. The workshops encourage students to take 20 to 40 minute long naps, hence the name “flash-nap.” The response from students has been more positive than to the previous program, and the university has organized “flash mob” naps, which serve a

bigger purpose.

“People who know how to [nap] will just drop where they are and go to sleep,” Newton said. “There will be a certain gathering place [to nap]. [It is] just a way of drawing attention to [the] thinking [that] our culture should shift to one that approves of napping. We want to get to a point where people say,

‘They are smart for taking naps,’ not to point fingers and say those are lazy people.”

While naps are important, nighttime sleep is essential. And though students know that getting less than the recommended amount of sleep can leave them groggy, most students aren’t aware how many problems lack of sleep can cause, according to Newton. Haley Davis, research assistant to Cornell

University professor James Maas, a leader in the field of sleep research and author of the best-selling book “Power Sleep,” shared how a good night’s rest makes a difference.

“The first thing to go is your mood,” Davis said. “That leaves a lot of irritability, anxiety, depression, decreased reaction time and

critical thinking.”

Davis also explained that a study she and Maas conducted at the prep school Deerfield Academy showed a direct relation between GPA and adequate rest. Maas and Davis monitored students who gained two hours in their nightly sleep cycles and found that their grades were some of the highest the school has seen.

While caffeine consumption and vigorous physical activity in the evening, there is one disruptive activity that is hard for students

to avoid.

“It inhibits sleep if you use electronics within an hour of bedtime,” Davis said. “[It] makes it harder to fall asleep because it suppresses melatonin, which is the hormone that makes you sleepy.”

However it is hard for some students to make behavioral changes.

“I wouldn’t stop using electronics at all,” said Austin Zammar, a freshman audio arts and acoustics major. “There’s not a lot to do an hour before bed, so usually it’s how I fall asleep.”

Sleeping less to get more done can slow you down and it doesn’t help that we live in what Davis calls the “24/7 society.”

“You have all these pressures to keep moving, get all you can accomplish done during the day,” Davis said. “It’s just how our culture is. You’ve got to keep going, whether it’s academic or economic pressures, [and] especially social [pressures] in college.

Perhaps the most counterproductive study habits are ones that some students find helpful: the all-nighter and the early

morning cram.

“The fact is they may have to be working a lot harder to accomplish learning new material, solve problems and to live their lives than they would have to work if they were well rested,” Newton said.