Nap without guilt, students need more sleep

Students take a nap in Durham College's SW wing.
Students take a nap in Durham College’s SW wing.

Think back to the days prior to post-secondary education. Isn’t it hard to believe there was a time when sleeping was something you dreaded? It’s likely that you even put up a fight to your parents, teachers and caretakers at the mention of a nap.

Now, imagine how you might react if your professor told you to have a rest. Some might even cry tears of joy because moodiness is a side effect of lack of sleep. As a student, you are more than likely experiencing sleep deprivation and it is affecting your performance physically, mentally and academically.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends adolescents and young adults get nine to nine and a half hours of sleep per night.

“From the literature we know that this particular population is sleep deprived. Often they’re getting less than seven hours of sleep,” says Efrosini Papaconstantinou, a professor at UOIT.

Papaconstantinou’s clinical background is in pediatric nursing. She has extensively researched sleep patterns and disturbances in children and adolescents.

“There’s this common misconception that sleep is this very passive thing when in actuality there’s a lot of higher brain activity occurring while we’re asleep,” Papaconstantinou said, “especially in the deeper phases of sleep.”

The sleep cycle consists of two states described as rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). There are various stages of sleep, each of which is crucial to our wellbeing. Sleep deprivation affects the balance of this important sleep cycle.

Sleep restriction can cause impairments in learning and processing. Papaconstantinou said that lack of sleep is associated with increased academic problems, attention problems and forgetfulness. It has also been associated with depressed moods, daytime sleepiness and long-term problematic sleep behaviours.

“Sleep is never a priority but we know that sleep serves not only restorative roles within the body but also repairative ones,” Papaconstantinou said.

For students, making sleep a priority can be challenging between balancing classes, readings, assignments, a part-time job and other commitments.

Gary Delaney, a second-year Business Administration Marketing student at Durham College, said he sleeps about seven hours a night and thinks that is enough.

“For my course specifically I think we have enough time to do most things. It’s just times when everything in every class is all due in the same few days,” Delaney said, “I don’t think they take into consideration all of our other work in our classes a lot of the time.”

Delaney said that he sometimes lacks sleep because he also has to work. He said the education system should take that into consideration.

Meaghan Tammerand, studying in her second-year of Police Foundations, agrees.

“Most people have to pay for there own education so I think they should give more time to students to get their homework done,” She said.

Tammerand works three jobs to pay for school so she hardly has time to sleep.

Getting even less sleep is Christina Hozjan, a first-year Protection Security Investigation student and mother to a toddler.

“I get roughly six to seven hours on a good night,” Hozjan said. She said the majority of weeknights she has to sacrifice sleep to stay on top of assignments.

Papaconstantinou said although sleep is particularly important for young children’s growth and development, it is also very important for adults’ learning, processing, moods and daytime functioning.

Inadequate sleep habits can affect the brain’s ability to learn and concentrate.

“I don’t think this population is obtaining enough sleep to function at an optimal level the next day which is very concerning,” Papaconstantinou said.

The National Sleep Foundation offers tips for students to maintain healthy sleep schedules throughout the year. It recommends establishing a sleep schedule weeks prior to the beginning of the school year to get adjusted. Students are encouraged to maintain that sleep schedule throughout the semester.

Limiting time spent watching television and using a computer or cellphone will also improve sleep. People should avoid large meals and caffeine close to bedtime as well.