5 steps for quality sleep

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Editor’s note: This story runs with Insomnia affecting more and more people.

The end of every semester or term brings tests, projects, cramming sessions and late nights to the forefront of each student’s life.

However, that extra caffeinated soda or hour of late-night studying may be more detrimental to students’ success, according to some local medical professionals.

“They’ve done studies that show if you’re not getting enough sleep after you study, you’re unable to retain that information as well,” said Jennifer Despain, director for the Revere Health Sleep Disorders Clinic in Provo.

A study published in “The Journal of General Internal Medicine” concluded that workers suffering from sleep problems had lower cognitive functioning and energy, while a more recent study of over 1,000 college students in “Behavior Therapy” found almost 27 percent of students met the criteria for chronic insomnia but did not report the issue.

BYU psychology professor Daniel Kay, who has been researching sleep since 2003, added students’ late nights — whether studying or partying — “can really throw off the biology of your sleep.”

Beyond a couple of rough days, poor sleep hygiene can have long-term effects.

Correlation between depression and insomnia is high, according to Despain, and other medical conditions later in life are associated with insomnia.

“Anxiety (and) depression are likely to be linked to insomnia because a lot of insomnia is getting your mind to chill out so you can go to sleep,” she said.

In order to truly maximize time while still getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, here are a few things Despain, Kay and others suggested.

Graphic created by Sadie Anderson
  1. Set a schedule

Despain said waking up at a consistent time, even during the weekends, can help re-establish a body’s circadian clock.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences lists circadian clocks or rhythms as “physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle.”

These cycles are what make you feel sleepy at night and make you wake up without an alarm in the morning.

These rhythms coordinate with a master clock located in the brain’s hypothalamus; together, they influence the sleep-wake cycle of the body.

2. Avoid caffeine before bed

A study published in the “Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine” found that caffeine consumed as far as six hours before going to sleep had disruptive effects, normally reducing total sleep time by an hour.

The National Sleep Foundation said caffeine can be helpful during the day because it blocks sleep-inducing chemical production in the brain and enters the bloodstream quickly — in as little as 15 minutes.

However, it takes up to an hour to eliminate half of the caffeine in the bloodstream, meaning it persists there for hours.

The foundation also lists insomnia as a potential side effect of consuming caffeine.

3. Avoid midday naps and sleeping in

Kay said sleeping in simply pushes back the body’s circadian clock, meaning a person won’t feel sleepy until 16 hours after the time when they wake up.

Trying to catch up on sleep during the weekend or on a slower day still causes students to eventually deal with an out-of-sync circadian clock.

4. Have a dark bedroom and avoid bright lights before bed

Despain said a dark bedroom is important for continued sleep, and limiting exposure to bright lights before bed can really help someone prepare to fall asleep.

She added that studying or reading with a personal lamp instead of a brighter overhead light helps, and limiting time on electronic devices before bed can help the body relax.

However, bright lights can be a positive thing when it comes to waking up the following morning.

“One of the things we’ll do for people with insomnia — if they’re also having trouble getting up in the morning — is we’ll try to get them to expose themselves to bright light in the morning, so that way they can reset their circadian rhythm instead of sleeping in until 11 (a.m.),” Despain said.

Both Despain and Kay suggested limiting activities while lying in bed.

Reading or being on your phone in bed can associate those activities with that location Despain said, and those associations can make it harder to fall asleep at night.

If someone is having a hard time falling asleep, Despain recommended getting out of bed to do something and then returning once a sleepy feeling returns.

5. If problems persist, contact a medical professional

“If they have signs of sleep apnea, they should probably go get those checked out,” Despain said. “If you’re having consistent insomnia, you should probably go talk to a doctor so you can figure out the underlying causes.”

Kay added that dealing with signs of insomnia for three or fewer months is the distinction between short-term and chronic insomnia.

He also said one bad night of sleep is not the end of the world — the human body is extremely adaptive when it comes to the occasional rough night.

Some of the most common sleep disorders and their symptoms. (Josh Ellis)

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