Student 101: Making sleep a habit

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 Illustration by Alexandra Nelipa

Illustration by Alexandra Nelipa

Psychology professor gives advice for improving sleep.

By James Dusek

Maintaining healthy sleep habits is far from the first thing on most college students’ minds. They have too much to deal with — classes, homework, relationships — and jobs are all too unpredictable for a set schedule.

Marc Lopez, a music education freshman, said he gets irritable and lethargic when he does not get enough sleep. “I just feel like I have slow reflexes,” he said. “And my mood kinda changes a lot. … For all of us, I just think we become an angry bear.”

Getting the proper amount of sleep may be difficult for students but can vastly improve many aspects of their lives, said psychology Professor Dehlia Wallis, who studied sleep during her undergraduate education.

“If you’re sleep deprived, your body goes into almost a survival mode,” said Wallis, also Honors Program coordinator.

As the name might suggest, it is much harder for students’ brains to focus on calculus class when they are in ‘survival mode.’ When a student is in this state, Wallis said, “your whole cognitive process is delayed. … Going to class, trying to study, all those things are not going to be effective.”

Getting too much sleep is just as detrimental as not getting enough.

“You don’t want to take a nap longer than 20-30 minutes in the middle of the day,” Wallis said.

Longer than that, and students start falling deeper into their sleep cycles, which affects their ability to sleep later that night. Wallis recommends students try to cut out naps entirely and head to bed earlier if they have trouble falling asleep at night.

The most important thing, Wallis said, is getting on a regular sleep schedule. Students should try to head to bed and wake up at around the same time every day, even if their schedule does not require it.

“The brain likes predictability,” Wallis said. Within one to two weeks of sticking to a schedule, students’ brains will get used to the routine and manage their internal clock so the student spends more time each night in the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep.

“It’s really about making sleep a habit,” Wallis said, “and allowing the brain to know ‘OK, we’re about to go to sleep, shut everything down.’”

Wallis also advises that caffeine can make students unable to sleep at night, further affecting their routine. Some people can handle a cup or two earlier in the day, Wallis said, but drinking it throughout the day will prevent the student’s brain from shutting down at the right time at night. Other helpful tips include turning off electronics 15-20 minutes before bed, and avoiding spending time in bed when not sleeping.

If a student is having trouble sleeping, Wallis advises that they reach out for help before it starts negatively impacting their life.

“Sleep affects every element of your life — from, you know, being more susceptible to disease and illness, to not being your sharpest,” she said. “It affects memory, it affects learning, it affects your relationships.”

If students think they may have a serious sleep disorder, the counseling center on the first floor of Moody Learning Center offers counseling.


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