It’s a challenge to get enough sleep — “We try to fill our days with meaningful things,” said Kristina Simeone on April 22 at the start of the Sleep Challenge.
Simeone, an associate professor in the School of Medicine and director of the master’s neuroscience program, said she remembers her busy undergraduate schedule that included schoolwork, RA duty, clubs, jobs and time with friends.
“For my daily schedule, you know, it would just start a few hours earlier, it would go a few hours later,” Simeone said, “because for me, I wanted to free up time so there was more time to live.”
But not getting enough sleep can have adverse effects in the short term and long term.
The Student Health Education and Compliance Office organized the Sleep Challenge ahead of finals week to help students recognize the importance of sleep, record their sleeping habits and learn tips for better sleep.
The challenge goes until May 2.
“This is an important topic for students to know more about because the trend for sleep right now is that people are getting less and less of it, even as we learn that it is more and more essential to our quality of life now and later,” said Julie Srail, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a campus health aid.
Srail worked with the health office and other health aides to plan the Sleep Challenge.
“Our lifestyles as college students will most likely only get busier from here as we enter the work world or go on to an even higher form of education, so it’s important we nail down important habits like this now,” Srail said.
She has been tracking her sleep since the start of the challenge, and her average sleep per night has been lower than the recommended 7-9 hours for adults.
Simeone explained in the kick-off presentation that both non-REM sleep and REM sleep are important for a person’s health and function.
“Your brain sets up sleep architecture in such a remarkable way, and it’s so important because if any part of the sleep architecture is missing, you have problems the next day,” Simeone said.
She emphasized that memory consolidation happens during sleep, which is important for students who are studying for exams and learning in class.
There is a lot that isn’t known about what happens during sleep, but scientists know a lot about sleep deprivation, Simeone said.
Studies have shown that for people who are deprived of sleep, their emotional responses are heightened and they are unable to cope with stress or manage their time.
“All of our emotional thresholds lower and start to deteriorate with sleep deprivation,” Simeone said. “In a cognitive study that was done with one night of sleep deprivation, the cognitive acuity is way worse after not sleeping for a day.”
Sleep deficiency has also been linked to chronic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There are things that we can do before we actually fall asleep that can maybe help us achieve optimal sleep and better sleep,” Simeone said.
The 30-60 minutes before you fall asleep should be spent in a dark, cool environment away from screens. Simeone recommended calming music, soundscapes and meditation to optimize sleep.
“One thing I think I’ll take from the research we’ve done for the challenge is setting up a pre-bed routine that doesn’t include screens and helps to calm me down,” Srail said. “For me, that will probably look like tidying up my dorm room, doing some skin care and listening to music for at least half an hour before bed.”
In addition to learning about sleep, participating students are asked to record characteristics of their sleep throughout the challenge.
Students can join the challenge up until May 2, when students will be asked to fill out a survey with the results.
People who fill out the survey will be entered to win one of three Amazon gift cards.
“I think it’s a great idea to have programs like this because it can be so easy to get swept up in all the responsibilities that consume all our time and energy,” said Krista Chang, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences who is studying neuroscience. “However, we need to prioritize our health because these bodies that we should be taking care of now are the same bodies that will carry us on throughout the rest of [our] lives.”