What Should You Believe About Sleep?

My blog is entirely committed to the topic of sleep (or lack thereof) in college students. In my first blog post, More Z’s Can Mean More A’s, I identified how much of an issue getting enough sleep is for college students today. Many students do not realize the effect continually losing sleep is having on their physical, mental and emotional health. I want to help students treat their bodies better and provide sources they can easily access to get reliable information. Many college-aged students use social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and so many other sites. With the major social media presence this age group has, I decided to provide quality sources that college students can easily follow on accounts they already look at daily. In my blog post titled Don’t Sleep on the Truth, I identified some great pages that students can use to determine whether the information they are getting about sleep is accurate or not.

With this blog post, my goal is to identify common conversations I hear all the time around campus and provide research results to either support or debunk the statements. I hope this post helps college students find healthy ways to get enough sleep and identify any unhealthy behaviors they have been engaging in.

Myth #1: Daytime sleepiness always means you are not getting enough sleep.

Are you feeling incredibly sleepy throughout the day most of the time? You may actually be getting enough sleep, but have an underlying condition that you are just brushing off. According to the National Sleep Foundation, these conditions could include narcolepsy and sleep apnea, which can be treated and your symptoms should be discussed with a physician. A social media page I found to be very informing and bring individuals together that may have questions about sleep apnea is the Sleep Apnea Support Group on Facebook. This page is a great place to start to read about people’s own experiences that you may have personally dealt with as well. Do not brush off excessive tiredness during the day for just needing enough sleep, especially if you are getting about 8 hours a night.

Myth #2: Naps are bad!

Actually, naps aren’t a bad thing, you’re welcome college students! Research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information has shown that even naps that only last 10 minutes can boost alertness. Taking a 20-30 minute nap is considered the “sweet spot” for napping because people usually have not entered the REM state yet. Taking naps longer than 30 minutes, however, can cut into your nighttime sleep and make it harder to fall asleep. The Smithsonian Mag on Twitter (@smithsonianmag) published an article suggesting that taking mid-day naps were a bad thing. However, once reading the article the title is mostly just click-bait. The article is similar to a lot of the research I found about naps, which is taking short naps that won’t inhibit your nighttime sleep. Set an alarm for your nap, don’t sleep for more than 30 minutes and you’re golden!

Myth #3: You can just catch-up on missed sleep over the weekend.

When you miss out on a full night of sleep, you accumulate what is called sleep debt. Many college students believe they can make up for their sleep loss during the week by sleeping in on the weekends. However, this is not exactly how you can get rid of sleep debt. Depending on how long you have been accumulating a loss of sleep, you need to add hours to each night to gradually make up for it. If you have missed 10 hours of sleep in the past week, you are not going to be able to make up for this in one night. If you add three to four hours of sleep each weekend night and an extra hour or two the following week you will feel much more refreshed and caught up on sleep more long term than trying to just sleep all weekend to make up for it. Sleep.org explains more in-depth how sleep debt can be caught up and the symptoms individuals may begin experiencing if they continue this lifestyle. A helpful page I found on Facebook is called Sleep Debt Tracker App, which you can also download as an app onto your smartphone. This app allows you to measure the amount of sleep you are getting and the page actually posts helpful videos to determine whether you are getting enough sleep. Just remember, when making up for sleep debt slow and steady is the way to go on this one.

Myth #4: Watching television or laying on your phone will help you fall asleep.

Social media is easily one of the biggest contributors to students using their phone before bed. Whether it is checking Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter before going to bed they all have one thing in common– blue light. While this may make you feel more tired, the “blue light” that comes off of these screens is actually distracting your brain and preventing it from relaxing to fall asleep. Studies from Harvard Researchers found that people who watch some type of “blue light” technology before going to sleep take an average of 10 minutes longer to actually fall asleep. Harvard also found that it messes up people’s circadian rhythm, suppresses melatonin secretion and decreases the amount of REM sleep you get. Many college students use their phone before going to sleep, in fact a Qualcomm online survey found that 62% of adults keep their phone within reach in bed. All students interviewed also use their phone between 15 minutes to an hour before going to sleep. Ohio State University research found a positive association between phone use before bed and insomnia. For a lot of college students using their cell phone before falling asleep has become a nighttime routine, but I suggest finding some other way to relax your brain such as reading a book or drinking a warm cup of tea. These alternatives will likely help students from feeling so deprived of sleep the next morning.

Myth #5: You get better sleep after a night of drinking.

Although drinking has been shown to make people more sleepy, this is not a healthy way to fall asleep. Alcohol is constantly at the center of many college student’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds. In fact, restaurants even use social media to promote their happy hour menu. The Recovery Village goes more in depth on the influence social media has on alcohol use. With alcohol so present in social media, it is important to realize the effects it can have on sleep. WebMD does a great job explaining what effects alcohol has on REM. When someone has drank alcohol close to going to sleep, alcohol must be metabolized throughout the night and will likely disturb sleep- especially REM. Although alcohol helps induce sleep, the reduction of REM may cause daytime drowsiness and poor concentration the next morning. REM is also incredibly important for memory storage, so individuals who use alcohol as a sleep aid may have more difficulty remembering things. College students using alcohol may have a hard time converting information they have learned in class to their long term memory because this occurs during the REM stage.

Myth #6: You can train yourself to need less sleep.

Many people, especially college students, believe they can train their body to function on little amounts of sleep. However, this is not true and Dr. Sigrid Veasey explains it best in a New York Times Article when he says, “people that believe they can change the amount of sleep they need have skewed their self-awareness. On Twitter, there has a hashtag has become incredibly popular among people who do not get enough sleep called #teamnosleep where people post about how long they have gone without sleep and it has become a viral sensation. This hashtag promotes users to go as long as they can without sleep, which is just not healthy. The more you deprive yourself of sleep over long periods of time, the less accurate you are at judging your own sleep perception.” College students that believe this myth may be so sleep deprived that they begin feeling normal when they are in this stage. Being aware of the amount of sleep you get on vacations and school breaks when you are not sleep deprived is important to help you realize how much sleep your body might need every night.

Myth #7: You can easily become a morning person, just get up!

There’s a lot more to this than what most people think. All around campus you can hear students talking about not wanting to take a 7 a.m. class because they are not a morning person, and then that one person who says you will get used to it. You really have to dedicate some time to become an early riser. Jet Brands (@JetBrands) posted on Twitter “5 tips on how to become a morning person” and many of them are actually the same suggestions researchers have. Some helpful tips from Psychology Central to point you in the right direction include: getting to bed early, not using screens before bed, finding something that will motivate you to get up when your alarm goes off, continually waking up at the same time and eating a healthy breakfast. So this one might not be a complete myth, but it is much harder than most people think! Stick to it and find a reason to get up in the morning to motivate yourself, whether that is a nice cup of coffee or a yoga session. I believe in you!

Myth #8: You should take Melatonin supplements to fall asleep.

One company I found on Twitter @klovasleep promotes the use of a melatonin patch to aid in falling asleep. However, your body already produces the amount of melatonin you need. Mayo Clinic has provided evidence that suggests short-term use is safe for individuals, but it is recommended to talk to your primary care physician before using it. Treat it like any other sleeping pill and discontinue use if you feel any side effects including dizziness, nausea and drowsiness. There are possible drug reactions that can occur if you are taking multiple types of medications, which is why it is very important to speak to your doctor first before deciding to try out melatonin.

Getting enough sleep in college is easier said than done, but hopefully this post has helped at least one college student identify any unhealthy habits they are engaging in or at least provide some research on some of the statements students have likely heard before. If you are interested in getting more information on sleep, my blog post Don’t Sleep on the Truth provides a lot of great sources that can be found on social media sites. Some of my favorite pages are on Twitter including the National Sleep Foundation (@sleepfoundation), Academy of Sleep Med (@AASMorg) and Dr. Michael Breus (@thesleepdoctor). Now, go get the quality sleep you deserve!


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