Sleep deprivation is like intoxication

Experts say not getting enough sleep severely impairs your basic cognitive functioning

Many students don’t realize it, but not getting enough sleep can contribute to anxiety, depression and feeling overwhelmed, said a peer educator from Health Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS).

“Lack of sleep can compromise your cognitive function and immune system, putting you at higher risk for colds and flu, at a time when your good health is vital to academic success,” said Lee Fisher-Goodchild, HCDS peer health educator.

According to HCDS’s Be Well-Do Well website, “People between the ages of 11 and 22 need eight to ten hours of sleep per night.”

Alistair MacLean, a psychology professor whose research focus is sleep outlined some reasons how sleep affects our circadian rhythm.

MacLean said in an e-mail to the that your ability to fall asleep is influenced by your circadian rhythm, one of which is body temperature. People usually fall asleep when body temperature is decreasing and wake when body temperature is increasing. The body is at its lowest temperature between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.

“In order to get a good night of sleep it is important not only to get sufficient sleep but also to get it a regular time. The best sleep occurs when our sleep period is aligned with our circadian rhythm, that is why transmeridian travel and shift-work are so disruptive”

According to a study by the Institute of Population and Public Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, approximately 48 per cent of adolescent students have less than eight hours of sleep per night.

Janet Elvidge, HCDS nurse co-ordinator said many students come in with sleep-related problems.

“HCDS sees a significant number of students each year—it’s a fairly common problem,” she said. “It’s a growing concern due to the numerous pressures students face—concerns about school work, relationships and finances are some aspects of life that can contribute to sleep problems.”

If these problems persist, it can lead to sleep deprivation—a condition that many students experience at some point throughout their university career, Elvidge said.

Some common symptoms of sleep deprivation include tiredness, irritability, inability to tolerate stress, problems with concentration and memory, blurry vision, frequent infections, and alterations in appetite.

Taking some medications, like hormone replacements, diet pills, steroids, and asthma medications may contribute to not getting enough z’s each night, so it’s important that you talk to your health care provider about the medications you’re on and how it may affect your ability to sleep, she said.

Although staying up may seem like an ideal option for students with jam-packed schedules, it is not the ideal time to get work done according to learning strategies outreach co-ordinator, Elspeth Christie.

She said working for long periods at night is one of the worst combinations for processing information she wants students to view the consequences of staying up late to study, particularly now that Stauffer will have its doors open for 24 hours, from Nov. 27 to Dec 21.

“According to the University of Texas Learning Center, studies show that after 19 hours without sleep, performance on tests is equivalent to that of a person whose blood alcohol level is 0.1 per cent,” she said. “In other words, if you pull an all-nighter, your thinking is no better than if you were legally drunk.”

Kate Cavan, ArtSci ’07 and a peer learning assistant with Christie said that students should recognize the potential health effects of staying up late to study.

“[Having Stauffer open 24 hours] could tempt many students to over-work themselves during times when they need their good health and mental alertness the most,” she said.

And if you’re going to nap, professor MacLean said the way to do it is to nap as far away from you usual sleep time, normally the mid-afternoon.

“The closer to the regular sleep period you nap, [the] more difficult it is likely to be to go to sleep,” he said.

Christie also stressed the importance of working during the day. Not only does it prevent napping, but it also is more effective.

Kristin Douma, ArtSci ’07, finds it easier to do school work at night.

“I find it’s easier to concentrate,” Douma said. “It’s quieter and I can actually focus on what I need to do. There’s also less going on—so it’s an ideal time.”

“It’s been proven that working in daylight for shorter periods—typically 50 minutes at a time—is the most effective,” she said. “Studies show that this strategy is ten to 15 per cent more effective than studying at night.”

Fisher-Goodchild said having the library open for 24 may send the wrong message to students.

“I hope that it doesn’t make students inclined to feel like they should stay up all night to study and hopefully, their [sleeping] patterns won’t change in response to this, she said. “I firmly believe that sleep is the critical foundation to well-being and that if you don’t get enough sleep, your body and mind cannot function.”

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