As a human species, something that connects all of us is the common need for sleep. It is a fundamental need that allows us to learn new information and maintain our mental health. But we live in a day and age where we operate under the delusion that sleep is time lost that could be used to do other things. Normalizing phrases in American culture like “you snooze, you lose” glorify sleep deprivation. Some call it a sleep crisis. 40% of Americans are sleep deprived, reporting significantly less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep (Gallup poll). 

In educational environments like CU Denver, lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on students’ academic success. Students who are sleep-deprived can have a harder time maintaining focus, making it difficult to learn and take in information. Sleep also plays a role in consolidating memories. Sleep allows people to strengthen neural connections to form memories so that they can be recalled upon for use while awake. In the 2019 National College Health Assessment, 23.6% of CU Denver students reported that sleep difficulties within the past 12 months affected their academic performance.

Loss of sleep can have a negative impact on mental health. Sleep deprivation has a strong connection with every mental health disorder, especially depression and anxiety. Brad Wolgast, Psychologist of the University of Delaware states “When you find depression, even when you find anxiety, when you scratch the surface 80 to 90% of the time you find a sleep problem as well.” In the Great British Sleep Survey, they found that sleep-deprived people are 7 times more likely to have feelings of hopelessness and 5 times more likely to feel lonely. 

Sleep can be an ultimate performance enhancer, especially when it comes to academic success. As students approach finals week, Arianna Huffington from the Sleep Revolution offers 6 tips and tricks to help you optimize your sleep.

  1. Turn down lights at bedtime: Light suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles. This includes blue light that emits from electronic devices that causes your mind to feel alert.
  2. Check for temperature: The National Sleep Foundation recommends 65 degrees as the ideal sleep temperature, and that sleep is disrupted above 75 degrees and below 54 degrees.
  3. Exercise: Plenty of evidence exists that exercise can promote sleep. Exercise is so beneficial to sleep and overall health, that it’s recommended to fit it in whenever our lives allow it. Even if it needs to be included close to bedtime.
  4. Monitor caffeine use: Aim to avoid caffeine in the later afternoon and evening. Caffeine can have a longer effect on our bodies than we think. A study by Wayne State University and Henry Ford Hospital concluded that drinking caffeine 6 hours before bedtime can reduce sleep by as much as 1 hour.
  5. Avoid alcohol: Alcohol before bed can significantly alter and disrupt the quality of sleep. A study from the London Sleep Centre confirmed that “at all dosages, alcohol causes a more consolidated first half of sleep and an increase in sleep disruption in the second half of sleep.”
  6. Mindfulness & Meditation: Stress and Anxiety is one of the most common nonmedical causes of insomnia. One can try to clear their mind of responsibilities by writing tasks down for tomorrow at the end of the night. Or reciting things you are grateful for as a nightly bedtime ritual. Regularly practicing mindfulness and meditation can make a positive impact in reducing stress and anxiety.

Sources


More than 40 Percent of Americans: Jeffrey M. Jones, “In U.S., 40% Get Less Than the Recommended Amount of Sleep,” Gallup, December 19, 2013, www.gallup.com.

“When you find depression”: Justin Pope, “Colleges Find Sleep Is Key to Grade Average,” The Associated Press, September 4, 2012, www.collegebasketball.ap.org.


In the Great British Sleep Survey: “The Great British Sleep Survey 2012,” Sleepio,
www.sleepio.com.


6 tips and tricks: Arianna Huffington, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming your Life, One Night at a Time (New York: Harmony, 2016), 197.


The National Sleep Foundation recommends: “Touch,” National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org; “How to Sleep Comfortably Through Hot Summer Nights,” National Sleep Foundation,
www.sleepfoundation.org


“at all dosages”: I. O. Ebrahim, C. M. Shapiro, A. J. Williams, and P. B. Fenwick, “Alcohol and Sleep I: Effects on Normal Sleep,“ Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 37 (2013): 539-49