Going to bed at midnight or after is a norm for most college students, leaving them exhausted for the following day. Does the amount of sleep that people gain directly affect their productivity?
In a recent study, Daniel J. Taylor, doctorate of psychology and Adam D. Bramoweth, a clinical health psychologist reported that, on average, a college student loses 45 minutes to an hour and a half of sleep during college from their previous normal sleeping patterns.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
Christopher Lowry, a faculty member in the psychology department, said sleep is the opportunity for the brain to rest and prepare for the next day. As the body’s energy supply (also referred to as glucose) dwindles, cells called astrocytes, release molecules that can be used for energy.
“As we do things, we deplete those stores of energy,” Lowry said. “And we start to see the release of a chemical called adenosine.”
He said adenosine inhibits areas of the brain that helps people stay awake. That means that people become drowsy as adenosine levels rise. As people sleep, less activity occurs in their brain and that gives the astrocyte cells the opportunity to recharge.
Candace Brimhall, a freshman studying social health, said she tries her best to sleep for eight hours a night by setting an alarm a half hour before bed. When this alarm sounds, she stops what she is doing and gets ready for bed.
“I try to stay on a schedule to keep myself healthy and at my best,” Brimhall said. “If I don’t sleep, I don’t perform my best.”
On the contrary, her roommate, Azalea Paredes, a freshman studying psychology, said she does the exact opposite. She stays up almost all night doing homework and then sleeps between her morning and afternoon classes.
“It is difficult to get out of this habit because my body is used to it,” Paredes said. “Typically, after my classes is when I sleep, so my body only functions for short periods of time.”
She said those short periods of time give her just enough energy to stay awake during her classes. After class, she will sleep, then wake up to do homework all night and repeat.
Lowry said he is not surprised that college students are often tired.
“College life is mentally demanding,” Lowry said. “And if it’s true that it’s the brain that’s getting tired, then you would expect college students to be tired.”
But there is more than just sleep that applies to one’s mental activity and capability. Lowry said the brain’s ability to function is constituted in full body health. A balanced diet of healthy foods and exercise gives the brain energy to function well.
Brimhall said she has found that to be true.
“If I get enough sleep and eat well and exercise, I am more alert during the day and I do better in school,” Brimhall said.
There are many applications for smartphones that track sleep cycles and inform the user what they can do to sleep better. One of these applications is called “Sleep Cycle,” and has received many reviews.