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Is getting enough sleep in college overrated: things you have to know to enhance your performance

A little party might have never killed nobody, but it sure has affected test grades of billions of students and not just because they place having fun before the studies. It seems that facing sleep deprivation is something that goes without saying when one gets enrolled in a college whether it is caused by late night cramming or partying or both. Recent research on the importance of sleep for college students shows that you’d better be aiming for that optimal amount of zzzs unless getting lower grades isn’t that big of a deal.  

Ways lack of sleep affects performance

There have been numerous studies regarding the role of sleep in connection with learning, memory, and performance and it won’t come as a surprise that all of these studies find lack of sleep tremendously disadvantageous. Take a closer look at the finds of the studies by Ellenbogen & Payne and another one by Hult International Business School, and you will see that going to bed too late and waking up too early may be undermining your academic and business performance.

  • Have you ever noticed how hard it is to stay focused after a sleepless night? Your attention span gets shorter and you keep reading the same paragraph over and over, unable to grasp the idea or stare at the professor blankly without a single idea about what they have just asked. The ability to receive information is essential in learning and sleep deprivation will take it away from you.
  • It’s also important to process the information, though, and it becomes a really challenging task when you’re tired. A lack of sleep influences your ability to generate ideas and is to blame for bad decisions as neurons lose access to the information you already possess. It means that a sleep-deprived student is more likely to fail at a problem-solving task than the one who gets enough sleep.  
  • When you suffer from fatigue chances are you won’t feel like doing anything at all, and this is exactly why your motivation will decrease dramatically. Even if you decide to try and tackle the task, you will probably give up easily or take forever to complete it, which will turn the whole process into a torment. Other sleep deprivation effects on college students include high irritability and negative mood alterations, which also affects academic performance.

Let alone the risk of immune system impairing, developing diabetes, obesity or heart disease prolonged fatigue can lead to.

How many hours of sleep do you need?

The question is – how many hours exactly do we have to sleep to stay efficient? Apparently, students only get 6 hours of sleep per night and sometimes even less, which is considered insufficient by most researchers. The National Sleep Foundation insists adolescents should get seven to nine hours to stay healthy. In most sources you will keep bumping into a very precise minimum of 8 hours. However, it might be not as simple as that.

To conduct a Stanford University study on sleep deprivation in college students were playing the game of basketball before and after increasing their sleep hours up to 10. The increase turned out to be beneficial for their performance, which implies that 8-hours be not enough for athletes.

Researchers agree that the amount of sleep one needs varies from person to person and depends on individual characteristics. Some people will be totally fine with as little as 5 hours while others won’t feel rested unless they have 9 or 10.

At the same time, some studies consider 8 hours of sleep overrated. A UCSD study believes that it causes oversleeping, so the advice they share is getting just enough sleep instead of going for a set amount of it. What’s more, they claim for most people it’s not 8, 7.5 or even 7 hours. Surprisingly enough, the number they recommend aiming for is just 6.5 hours per night.

How many hours should students sleep? Apparently, as long as you feel rested and perform well it doesn’t even make that much of a difference.

Is it all about the magic 8 hours?

If you now you believe that getting enough sleep hours is the only change you’ve got to introduce to the schedule in order to show better results you’re terribly wrong. A study carried out at Harvard has proved that bedtime schedule consistency is also of utmost importance, which makes it even harder to get things right.

The researchers compared regular sleepers’ performance asking them to go to bed and wake up at a fixed time during 30 days, and irregular ones, who didn’t have to follow a consistent sleep schedule. It turned out, going to bed late can throw off your inner clock making your body release melatonin – a hormone tied to the regulation of sleep – later in the night, which can make you feel as if you were experiencing jet lag the next morning.

That being said, going to bed late implies a shift in exposure to the light: students tend to get less of it during the day and more of it at night, whether it comes from DJ lighting in a club or a laptop screen. Since light exposure also interferes with your sleep and wake cycles, it is highly recommended to pay attention to sleep regularity and timing as well as to its quantity and quality.

Since we’ve started talking about sleep and college students issues, there’s one more problem we can’t but mention – a sleep hangover. Sleeping in on the weekend is what you’ve been dreaming of during the week? Now imagine waking up at 11 am tired and groggy feeling like you haven’t gotten any rest at all. It might sound like it doesn’t make any sense, but to get enough rest you have to debunk Sunday sleep-in as well as break the habit of getting way to little night’s sleep.

Tips on increasing sleep quality

It’s been mentioned already that you can be doing perfectly fine even if you get 7 or 6 hours of sleep per night, but it’s vital to make sure the sleep you get is not only regular but also top quality. What can you do to enjoy all the positive effects of getting enough sleep? Consider giving these tips a try.

  • The room you sleep in has to be dark, cool and quiet to promote better rest. You might want to get a pair of earplugs and buying blinds would be an investment you will never regret.
  • Exercise at least 2 hours before bedtime. Otherwise, your body will get amped up and this will give you a hard time when trying to doze off.
  • Hot shower or bath before bedtime does not make for quality sleep even though most of us are guilty of it. However, it can be beneficial if take it 2 hours before you hit the sack or so.
  • Remember how light impedes your ability to fall asleep? Then help your body release melatonin and quit surfing the net till your eyes don't stay open any longer.
  • Avoid stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine, which will surefire make falling asleep way harder. And it’s not just about late-night joe fixes – green tea contains lots of caffeine too, so probably water is going to be the recommended drink of choice.
  • Alcohol might make you feel drowsy, but it will prevent you from getting deeper sleep later in the night.
  • Don’t make your digestive system work while your body is trying to rest by overeating close to the bedtime as it won’t contribute to getting better quality sleep.

This is how you can get by with 6 or 7 hours of sleep you’re used to getting, but if you still don’t feel refreshed in the morning, it would be a good idea to increase the amount of sleep you get and try sticking to a sleep schedule.

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