I Also Most Died - I Had Insomnia

by Shellique Carby-Bird Friday September 3rd 2021

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images courtesy of Huffington Post

You made it to University or College.

Well done! You can be proud of yourself! You are now in the place you have dreamed of and worked for all these years.

Suddenly it's all up to YOU! - Culture shock!


Attend lectures

Buying food and cooking meals,

Taking on financial worries,

Learning to live in a new place, city or even country

and then there's your social life...

And you still need to get those good grades.

Up to this point, you have had teachers and parents helping you along the way, keeping your focus on your studies, feeding you, cleaning up after you, providing your support network.

Sleep… not a priority at this stage for most students.

Until it BECOMES a problem! With no coping skills, late nights lead to...

  • All-day coffee
  • Energy drinks
  • Simple, old fashioned foods
  • Chocolate
  • Sugar
  • Caffeine
  • Alarm clocks
  • Cram study

Does any of it help?

The importance of sleep for students - no its not a yawn!

To get the best out of your time, effort, and money, you need to maximise your learning, academic, and personal growth.

Sleepiness from any cause can negatively affect these goals through impact on learning, memory, grades, perception of effort, driving performance, and mood.

Shelley D Hershner and Ronald D Chervin published a research paper in 2014 for the US National Institutes of Health. They said that existing evidence does suggest an association between sleep and academic grade point average (GPA). Students in the research studies who had more sleep (8 or 9 hours) had higher GPAs than short sleepers (6 hours or less). Later bedtimes were associated with lower GPAs, while earlier rise times were associated with better grades. Students in the research who had a more irregular sleep pattern had lower academic performance, for example, all-night study sessions.

Hershner and Chervin said that evidence suggests that nearly one in four students is at risk for a sleep disorder. Therefore, higher education institutions should screen students with poor academic performance for sleep disorders. Students at risk for sleep disorders had a significantly higher risk for academic failure. Among those who screened positive for obstructive sleep apnea, 30% were at risk for academic failure.

Causes of insomnia in university students and the prevalence of sleep disorders

Some causes are physiologic and others are behavioural, such as poor sleep hygiene.

Good sleep hygiene includes a regular sleep-wake schedule, a quiet and dark sleep environment, and avoidance of caffeine and sugar after lunch, and no stimulating activities before bed.

Substances are not the only aspect of inadequate sleep hygiene. The widespread use of technology before bed may also negatively affect sleep. Sleep deprivation in college students who have poor sleep hygiene, that encourages sleep deprivation and disruption to your circadian rhythms.

Irregular sleep and circadian rhythms - sleep hygiene for college students

Some reasons why students don't get enough sleep are changes in sleeping patterns due to:

  • pulling all-nighters to finish an assignment,
  • cramming late for an exam,
  • watching TV, mobile phone use or surfing the internet at bedtime,
  • some universities have early or late lectures, which does not help the situation.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), the best way to optimise final exams is to study and get a good night of sleep. College students who pull "all-nighters" are more likely to have lower academic results.

Many students love to go to nightclubs until the early hours of the morning or stay up late talking to friends. Typically, your brain starts secreting melatonin around 9 or 10 pm, which makes you sleepy. These normal secretions help regulate your sleep cycle.

However, if you regularly interrupt your brain and alter this cycle, sleep disorders can develop. It can even create a state of permanent "jet lag".

Although many students have a nocturnal preference (stay awake at night and sleep during daylight hours), this preference can progress to delayed sleep-phase disorder (DSPD). DSPD is a circadian rhythm disorder where you cannot get to sleep when you are ready to sleep, and you have difficulty waking up when you need to wake up. Consequences of DSPD may include missed morning classes, increased sleepiness, and decreased concentration, especially in morning classes. Students with DSPD have lower grades.

Light exposure as a cause - Melatonin and blue lights

Hershner and Chervin said, "' Generation Y'ers' (adults aged 19–29 years old) are heavy users of technology before going to bed: 67% use cell phones, 43% music devices, 60% computers, and 18% video games. The majority (51%) report rarely getting a good night's sleep and often wake unrefreshed. Frequent use of cell phones around bedtime is associated with difficulties falling asleep, repeated awakenings, or waking up too early. One of the effects of technology may be to suppress melatonin, resulting in going to sleep later than usual." More about melatonin can be found under the heading 'light exposure'.

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your body clock telling your body when to sleep and when to wake up. Prompted to your physical environment, melatonin, secreted by the pineal gland, regulates the circadian rhythm as its s

Light passes directly through your optic nerve and into your hypothalamus, which controls your biological clock. Modern-day lighting tricks your inner clock with light signalling to your brain it's time to wake up and starts preparing your body for ACTION.

Usually, it is low or absent during the day and starts to rise about 2 hours before your habitual bedtime. Melatonin is suppressed/decreased by almost any source of light. Light sources as low as 200–300 lux (room lights) can cause suppression.

Balance your circadian rhythms

Your sleep routine should be in line with a healthy, balanced circadian rhythm.

What is circadian rhythm?

The Sleep Foundation says, "Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body's internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions and processes. One of the most critical and well-known circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle.

Different systems of the body follow circadian rhythms that are synchronised with a master clock in the brain. This master clock is directly influenced by environmental cues, especially light, so circadian rhythms are tied to the cycle of day and night.

When properly aligned, a circadian rhythm can promote consistent and restorative sleep. But when this circadian rhythm is thrown off, it can create significant sleeping problems, including insomnia. Research also reveals that circadian rhythms play an integral role in diverse aspects of physical and mental health."

Fixing your sleep routine

Light, including blue light from the TV, computer, cell phone etc, stimulates the brain, preventing you from falling asleep quickly. TV disrupts your pineal gland function, which helps to produce melatonin that helps you sleep. The blue light from TV's and computer screens is very much like the blue light found in daytime sunlight, which can change your melatonin production.

Light in a room close to nighttime can affect your internal clock and serotonin/melatonin production - even the smallest glow from your clock could be interfering with sleep.

If you would like to read more, please go to my second article in this series - Part 2 - STips For Students with Sleep Problems

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