Is sleep deprivation ruining your university life?
We’re all aware of the effects insomnia has on those who suffer from it – a chronic inability to get little or any sleep that can last entire lifetimes, ruining mental and physical health.
Not many people realise, however, that sleep deprivation can be far more subtle, with ill-effects building up over time to cause severe health problems.
It’s not hard to imagine that getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night during university is near impossible; late night studying after two days of parties is par for the course and many students find themselves trying to catch up with three or four nights of minimal sleep by the time the weekend rolls around.
It might seem like you’re coping well on 5 hours of sleep a night when there’s copious amounts of red bull and chocolate around to mask the signs of fatigue, but long term poor sleeping habits could be having a significant impact on your work, studies and relationships.
Wondering why you started shouting at your housemate for leaving a pile of dirty pots on the kitchen side? Maybe a good nights’ sleep will help you chill out a bit! Long term sleep deprivation can impact your judgement, mood and motivation, which could in turn make you more reactive and ill-tempered towards friends and family.
If lack of sleep can affect your relationships with loved ones, then you can be sure work performance will suffer as well. Even one night of poor sleep can make it difficult to focus, think and remember important information, so imagine the long term consequences of these effects on your studies!
If you regularly find it difficult to concentrate during lectures or struggle to complete work you would usually find easy, it could be sleep deprivation taking its toll on your cognitive abilities.
Poor quality sleep can impact your physical and mental health in many ways. From depression to obesity and heart attacks, the degree to which sleep affects us is astounding.
Professor Colin Smith of the University of Surrey found startling evidence that poor sleep effects the way our body recovers and rebuilds itself: “Clearly sleep is critical to rebuilding the body and maintaining a functional state, all kinds of damage appear to occur – hinting at what may lead to ill health”.
What bad habits could be impacting your sleep? (besides the study sessions and nights out!)
Caffeine is a big culprit in disturbing sleep; not many people are aware of how long the effects of their last coffee can carry on working for – some people may have trouble sleeping up to 8 hours after their last drink without realising why.
Watching TV late at night (especially in the bedroom) can keep your mind active and the light can confuse your mind into thinking it’s not time to sleep – and any horrors or thrillers will definitely make it difficult to switch off when the lights are out!
Falling asleep with the TV or radio on can be particularly bad for sleep, as when the noise changes or stops altogether you’re likely to wake up suddenly. Combine this with a need to hear a familiar background noise to drift off at night, and you’re setting yourself up for a pointless cycle of disjointed sleep that can be difficult to break.
It seems obvious but your surroundings can have a large effect on the quality of your sleep, without you realising it. Light sources can affect you even when your eyes are closed – so if you’re trying to catch up on sleep throughout the day, the daylight may prevent your body from reaching all the different stages of sleep it would usually need.
Even the colours found in your bedroom can negatively impact sleep. Internationally recognised colour expert Kate Smith notes that the type of colour found in bedrooms can alter mood and it’s not necessarily the shade that does it. “Whatever the hue, look for colours that have a lower light reflectance value; darker colours have lower light reflectance values than lighter ones and are more conducive to a proper sleeping environment.”
You could be one of many who assume they are coping fine on less sleep, but it’s wise to take a look at your health and think about any symptoms or illnesses that have been troubling you for a while. The issue could be as simple as changing your habits or making an effort to catch up on lost sleep – you might notice some startling changes if you give it a try!