College students catch few 'Z's

by Jack Vaitayanonta | 5/17/94 5:00am

A typical student's life, filled with class schedules, lab reports, dinner dates, athletics, club meetings and socializing, is often deprived of one of the most fundamental activities of all: sleep.

The long term effects of sleep deprivation can lead to a decline in performance quality and result in sleeping disorders.

"Dartmouth is filled with people who are athletes and student leaders who are leading full lives and socializing. With everything they have to do, they probably need a 48-hour day," Gabrielle Lucke, the College's health education coordinator, said.

According to Dr. Michael Sateia '70, director of the Sleep Disorder Center at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the most prevalent sleeping disorder among college students is a lack of sleep, which he said leads to excessive tiredness and fatigue.

"College students as a whole are a sleepy group compared to the rest of the population. Although the problem of tired college students is inevitable, it deserves some degree of attention," Sateia said.

"Excessive sleepiness leads to impaired alertness which is dangerous when one is operating machinery," Sateia said. He added that sleep deprivation hinders a person's ability to study or concentrate in the classroom and can also lead to irritability.

Sateia said a perpetual lack of sleep can lead to an impairment in mental performance in which a person's reaction time is slower and mental keenness less accurate.

But Sateia said there is no single number of hours a College student should sleep but said the average College-age student needs eight or nine hours a night.

Alcohol consumption can exacerbate the effects of fatigue and sleep deprivation, Sateia said. Although alcohol has sedating properties, he said the body metabolizes it quickly and can thus leave an individual in a "hyperaroused" state when the depressant wears off.

This state of hyperarousal leads to increased disruption of sleep. The sleep is of poor quality, lighter and more fragmented, he said.

But Sateia said insomnia is the most common sleeping disorder among college students who visit the clinic, a condition in which the person finds it is difficult to fall asleep.

Both Lucke and Sateia pointed out that Dartmouth's unique D-Plan academic calendar exaggerates the problems of academic stress and may disrupt students' sleeping habits even more.

"You've got relatively short terms with a lot of pressure and it's easy to fall behind quickly," Sateia said.

"Unfortunately, many times we turn to stimulants to keep us awake. They really energize us, but there can also be a crash in an extreme case. If there's too many stimulants, the body just won't respond," Lucke said.

Chad Sclove '97 said he has resorted to caffeine to stay awake at night.

"When I came here Fall term, I was pulling all-nighters. For awhile I was seriously eating spoonfuls of instant coffee to stay awake. But I don't do that any more and now I feel a lot better," Sclove said.

Lucke said students who believe they may have problems with sleep, such as insomnia or narcolepsy, can speak to counselors at Dick's House and discuss their problems.

Lucke said the counselor and the individual may discuss factors that may be causing the disturbances in the person's normal sleeping pattern. She said these factors include stress from daily routine, changes in diet, lifestyle and environment.

Lucke said students with special cases may be referred to the DHMC's Sleep Disorder Center.

Here are some helpful tips for inducing sleep:

  • Do not take naps during the day or go to bed earlier than usual.

  • Change your bedroom environment so that it is as quiet and dark as possible and maintain a temperature that is comfortable for sleeping.

  • Do not consume caffeined beverages or chocolate within eight hours of your bed time.

  • Warm milk is a natural sedative because of an amino acid called trytophan.

  • Engage in exercise on a daily basis.

  • Take an unhurried warm bath before bedtime. This tends to be very relaxing.

  • Do not use any drug that effects the central nervous system. In a college setting students should pay particular attention to alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. Decongestants should also be avoided.

  • Get up early each day at the same time, even if it was a bad night of sleep or a nonwork day to avoid "late sleeping syndrome" (an out of sort feeling after sleeping late in the morning).

These recommendations were adapted from work done by J. Graedon, author of "The People's Pharmacy," and paraphrased by Gabrielle Lucke.

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