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Insomnia and Student Life

By Pamela Ryan , Contributor
Friday 9th March, 11:02
Pam Ryan gives advice on the best ways to avoid insomnia, after looking at studies relating to college students.

Insomnia and Student Life 

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Insomnia is something I have had problems with for years. Being excited about something or even upset about something would keep me up for hours after I had gone to bed. I’d lay there and stare at the ceiling for hours, finally falling asleep at around 3am, only to be dragged out of bed four hours later to get up for school. Since starting college this has gotten progressively worse. Many things keep me up at night like trying to meet deadlines for assignments, studying and reading, going out mid-week to clubs with friends, staying up for DMCs with friends and house mates, and just generally not being able to switch my mind off. And with three out of five 9am starts it’s not easy to team this with the ill forgotten academic side of college.

            I’ve noticed in recent weeks that my little problem may not be so little and could be having an effect on my academic performance. Apart from sleeping through alarm calls and ringing doorbells, resulting in missing some of those 9am starts, my concentration span is comparable to that of a gnat. Tutorial readings are particularly challenging. A 26 page article seems daunting normally but once I get to the bottom of the first page and cannot tell you the related topic let alone the specific information, then it becomes clear there’s a problem. If you are wondering what it is I think about instead of the words on the page, the answer is nothing. My mind is literally blank, like it shuts itself down to have a little nap and I don’t even notice. In class this also seems to happen. If the subject the lecturer is prattling on about isn’t really, really interesting, I tend to tune out completely. But, this results in more work for me later when I have to catch up, and means I have to stay up late to do so, continuing the vicious circle.

            There have been many studies carried out on the relationship between sleep and academic performance. In the United States, 1,200 high school students were asked to fill out a designed questionnaire. Ninety percent felt groggy at school and 40 percent felt very groggy. These students received only 6.7 hours of sleep on a week night and 7.7 hours at the weekends. These students also had great difficulty in concentrating in class and while doing homework. In another high school 150 students were asked about their sleeping habits and academic performance. It was found that a higher Grade Point Average was directly related to waking up later on school days, earlier rising on weekends, less time taken to fall asleep, fewer night awakenings, and fewer daytime naps on school days. I must admit myself that I have been a culprit of the day time nap on occasion, but to my own detriment. Waking up feeling well rested seems fantastic at the time but not when you try to get eight hours of sleep later on and find yourself staring at the ceiling once again.

            In college students, insomnia has been related to increased tension, irritability, depression, confusion and lower life satisfaction. Even those students who get a solid eight hours of sleep a night but move these by two hours have trouble concentrating in class and on assignments. Waking later on weekends to catch up on the weeks missed sleep is also a bad idea. It has been shown to result in chronic psychomotor slowing, concentration problems, irritability and depression. The students involved in this study were asked to estimate their current GPA. Of these, the sleep deprived thought they had performed better than those with a solid night’s sleep. These students thought late night cramming was helpful and did not make the link between sleep deprivation and poor academic performance.

            The Rapid Eye Movement cycle seems to be the answer to this. The REM cycle occurs in the final two hours of sleeping and this is the time in which we dream. Through our dreams we subconsciously solve problems and integrate new information into our memories. It was found that those who slept for at least eight hours after a significant study session tested better than those who stayed up all night cramming.

            So what is the answer to insomnia and a better academic performance? No more late night chats, get up at the same time every morning and go to bed at the same time every night, no alcohol, quiet time for at least an hour before bed – which means no laptop or TV – and no more nights out. And if these don’t suit you, let me introduce you to your new best friend, coffee!

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