Carolyn Snively, Health Columnist

College students are power-napping between classes and pulling all-nighters on caffeine binges on a weekly basis. These may seem like quick fixes to check off all the “to-dos,” but when there is an opportunity for eight hours of sleep, they’re probably asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow. Unfortunately, this is a red flag for short- and long-term health effects of sleep deprivation, but there are several easy ways to prevent negative effects of insufficient sleep.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Almost half of college students reported that in the last week, they felt rested on fewer than three days. Students seem to have so much to do in such a short amount of time that sleep often takes the back burner. Not allotting seven to nine hours of sleep each night is a major disservice to our health.

Sleep is necessary for disease prevention and health promotion. The major benefit of sleep is the reparation of white blood cells, which boosts our immune system. Sleep also reduces stress and anxiety, which helps if you’re in an upsetting situation and need to “sleep it off.”

Getting insufficient sleep (less than about seven hours a night) causes issues that can be experienced on a short-term basis. Lack of sleep is linked to daytime sleepiness, sluggishness, impaired thinking, slowed reaction time, overeating and anxiety, which reduces the quality of waking hours.

There is a laundry list of chronic health problems caused by sleep deprivation. According to the CDC, insufficient sleep is linked to the onset of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, depression, breast and colon cancer and hormonal imbalance.

There are a variety of easy things everyone can do to ensure more sleep-and better quality.

Tips to getting more sleep:

Avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine for 6 hours prior to bedtime

Have a sleep schedule-go to bed and wake up at the same times every day

Avoid naps-if that isn’t possible, limit them to 30 minutes

Create a good sleeping environment-eliminate noise and lights, including televisions; make the room a comfortable temperature; adjust the comfort of your bed

Avoid pulling all-nighters

Avoid large meals and alcohol before bed-your metabolism will stay elevated while digestion is occurring, and alcohol interferes with the most restful kind of sleep, Stage 4

Avoid physical activity within a few hours of bed

A common sleep aid is melatonin, a hormone that helps control the body’s circadian rhythm. Natural levels of serotonin are highest at night, so those with low levels may have difficulty falling asleep.

Senior Kitty Sarosy has taken prescribed melatonin for about two years. “I started taking melatonin because I wouldn’t experience REM sleep,” Sarosy said. “I could sleep for eight hours and wake up feeling like I had gotten two. It helps me fall asleep and have deeper sleep.”

According to Jennifer Sliger, KNH instructor and registered nurse, long term use of sleep aids like Melatonin can have adverse effects.

“It is thought that [sleep aids] can interrupt the brain’s healthy progression through the natural stages of sleep, and some people rely on them too much, which causes them to have even more difficulty after they stop using them,” Sliger said.

Sleep experts also recommend staying away from sleep aids unless prescribed by a physician since they can cause side effects, such as headaches, nausea, dizziness and confusion.

Most students could get more, and better-quality, sleep each night as a result of simple lifestyle changes like avoiding stimulants before bed and sticking to a regular sleep schedule. These quick and easy tips are ways to improve personal health and wellbeing both short- and long-term.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/family/college/

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