The Significant Impact of Sleep
The Significant Impact of Sleep
Written by Kelsie Goller, MA, LPC-S, RPT
Clinical Director, KPS
About a third of American adults do not get the recommended amount of sleep, per the CDC. College students are one of the most sleep-deprived populations in our nation, with 60% reporting that they get insufficient sleep (Lund, 2009). Meanwhile, about 25-50% (data ranged by U.S. state) of children aged 4 months to 14 years old reported insufficient sleep. Sleep deprivation is an American epidemic, which has major consequences on our physical and mental health.
The Downsides of Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation can cause loss of long term memories and even incorporation of false memories, because sleep is necessary to consolidate what we learned during the day. Students who are taught a skill and then sleep deprived are able to do no better on that task later, while students who are allowed to sleep can perform better on the task after sleep, even with no additional practice (Hershner, 2014). Also, sleepy students have difficulty retaining new information; students who were taught a lesson after 35 hours of sleep deprivation (one night of missed sleep) performed two letter grades worse than those who had slept (Hershner, 2014). Sleep deprivation also causes us to misinterpret facial cues and focus on negative experiences, so sleep deprived people are more likely to pick a fight with others (Asp, 2016). Sleep deprivation (“drowsy driving”) leads to more motor vehicle accidents (CDC, 2022), and it decreases performance in athletics due to decreased coordination. It leads to more illnesses like colds and flu, as getting little sleep compromises the immune system. And it is also linked to weight gain, because sleep deprivation increases the hormone that makes us want high calorie foods while decreases the hormone that normally reduces our appetite (Asp, 2016). It makes a person have difficulty moving between subjects, which means their conversation is dulled, and can even give a person slurred speech (Asp, 2016). Sleep deprivation is associated with increased mental health issues like depression and anxiety, as well as with stress.
On the other hand, getting optimal sleep each night is associated with:
Stronger immune system
Higher GPA for students
With so many reasons to sleep well, let’s look at ways to optimize your sleep. “Sleep hygiene” is the term that counselors and other professionals use to refer to creating environmental conditions and personal habits that are conducive for good sleep.
Sleep hygiene includes the following recommendations:
Avoid napping during the day.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine in the 3-4 hours before bed.
Exercise (in the morning or late afternoon, before 2pm).
Don't eat large meals right before bed.
Get natural light during the day.
Develop a before bed routine.
Create a comfortable room (which is quiet, dark, and cool).
If you can't sleep, get out of bed. The Sleep Foundation recommends that you should not lie awake in bed for more than 20 minutes (Suni, 2022).
Stop using all technology 30 minutes before bed. Using technology right before bed (phones, TV, video games) is associated with less restful sleep, difficulty falling asleep, waking up multiple times or waking up too early. Exposure to blue light significantly reduces the production of melatonin, and it also prevents the body from reducing in temperature. People exposed to blue light before bed wake significantly more times through the night when tracked in a sleep laboratory, as well as reporting worse mood and more fatigue than people exposed to red light (University of Haifa, 2017).
Sleep/awaken at the same time each day, plus or minus twenty minutes. This is the most important factor of sleep hygiene. If you want to sleep in during the weekend, sleep only an hour longer during the weekend than your latest weekday wake-up time. Maintaining a regular schedule is critical to getting optimal sleep. Sleep regularity is just as important as how many hours you sleep and some research suggests that it may be even more important (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 2018). In college students, sleep regularity is associated with more happiness, healthiness, and calmness (American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2017).
If you are engaging in good sleep hygiene as outlined above but still experience significant sleep problems, it may be time to look into doing a sleep study at a sleep clinic in order to explore the possibility of a sleep disorder. You may also want to try one of the twelve sleep tips suggested below.
4-7-8 Method: Place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth. Breathe in through your nose while counting to four. Hold your breath while counting to seven. Breathe out through your mouth while counting to eight.
Progressive relaxation: Tense the major muscle groups for ten seconds and then release the muscles, taking a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth between each muscle group.
Visualization: Imagine yourself in a favorite location (beach, mountains, etc.) While breathing in and out deeply, imagine what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.
Apply pressure in the small depression between your eyebrows above the nose for a minute. Massage both of your ears for a minute.
Try to force yourself to stay awake (lay in bed and try to keep your eyes open.)
Get out of bed and do an activity- but no screens! (Color, puzzle, etc.)
Try cooling your room or taking a warm shower before bed.
Try wearing socks to bed.
Put cold water on your face for 30 seconds.
Inhale the scent of lavender before bed.
If you have too much on your mind, try journaling or making a list before bed.
Play Alphabet Categories: pick a category, and try to think of an item for each letter. (For example, fruits and vegetables: A for apple, B for banana, C for cantaloupe, etc.)
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2017, June 5). Sleep regularity is important for the happiness and well-being of college students: Study shows the importance of regular sleep patterns. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170605085336.htm
Asp, K. (2016). What happens to your brain when you’re sleep deprived? An infographic. American Association of Sleep Technologists. Retrieved from https://www.aastweb.org/blog/what-happens-to-your-brain-when-youre-sleep-deprived-an-infographic.
Becker, S.P., Jarrett, M.A., Luebbe, A.M., Garner, A.A., Burns, G.L., & Kofler, M.J. (2018). Sleep in a large, multi-university sample of college students: sleep problem prevalence, sex differences, and mental health correlates. Sleep Health, 4(2), 174-181.
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