Those Elusive Eight Hours



The recent midterm crunch has left many students suffering the aftereffects of sleep deprivation and an unhealthy nocturnal schedule.

"Students come in all the time complaining that they feel tired, it is a common problem here at UB," said Justine Barry, a health educator in the Living Well Center located on the second floor of the Student Union.

"Over 50 percent of current college students are suffering from some form of sleep deprivation," stated Dr. Susan Omar of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in an online interview. "Students tend to underestimate the importance of sleep, [but] it is an essential part of health wellness," added Omar.

Lack of sleep can cause many health problems. In a 1999 survey conducted by the academy, people with insomnia reported adverse effects including reduced concentration, decreased memory, impaired task performance and difficulty in social situations.

The study also found that missing only two or three hours of sleep every night for a week significantly impaired performance and mood.

"Deep sleep deprivation impairs the brain's ability to process information. Healthy sleep is important for learning certain perceptual skills related to visual patterns, as well as repetitive skills, such as typing," said Omar.

Sleep deprivation can also have a significant effect on human emotions, according to Omar. Stress and depression can cause insomnia, but, in turn, insomnia also increases the activity of the hormones and pathways in the brain that can induce emotional instability. Sleep abnormalities are commonly linked with depressive disorders. More than 90 percent of depressed patients experience insomnia and abnormal sleep problems often precede the first episode of depression.

Why are college students so prone to sleep withdrawal?

" It is impossible to pinpoint one or two factors that cause this student sleep deprivation epidemic, there are so many contributing factors," said Omar.

Some of the most common factors that contribute to poor sleep patterns are ingesting excessive amounts of caffeine, drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes before bedtime, excessive napping in the afternoon or evening and irregular or continually disrupted sleep/wake schedules.

Another major factor in the lack of sleep is the competing demands on a college student's time.

"Students are staying up late to study, they have added social pressures and many are working part-time jobs on top of it all. With all that activity, it's difficult to maintain a regular balanced sleep schedule," said Barry.

"I just don't have time to sleep enough," said Elise Gornish, a junior business major. "With work, school and my social life there is no time to sleep. I wish I could always sleep eight hours a night but it's impossible."

What should college students do if they are experiencing sleep deprivation?

Barry suggests students with minor problems should attend a time management or stress management workshop. For students with very serious problems, the Living Well Center would refer them to the counseling center, where they can receive professional help.

"Time management always plays an important role in sleeping, but often people suffering from sleep deprivation need to seek the help of a medical doctor," said Omar.

The most important stage of recovering from a sleeping disorder, according to Omar, is to identify the factors contributing to the problem, so the individual can adjust their lifestyle to rectify it.

Insomnia can also be addressed with medication.

Omar, however, cautioned that sleep aids are only intended for short-term use while the body breaks its disrupted sleeping cycle - they are not to be used for extended periods of time. Sleep aids can be habit forming, and should be used in consultation with a physician.

"Everyone should be sleeping 8-10 hours a night without exception ... a good night's sleep is an attainable dream," Omar concluded.