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Importance of Sleep

That snooze you took in math class? It wasn’t the prof’s fault, even if you found the material uninspiring. According to The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, if you feel drowsy during the day—even when a class seems boring—then you haven’t had enough sleep. How much is enough?

If you’re like most people, you probably need between seven to eight hours a night. However, some people need as little as five and others as much as 10. NINDS makes it clear—whatever you need, you really need, and if you’re sleepy during the day, you’re not getting enough. You might adjust to feeling sleep-deprived and be able to deal with it for a while, but the damage is still being done—to your judgment, reaction time, basic functioning and long-term health. College rituals like late-night pizza fests and Spring Break party marathons not only pile up credit-card debt, they also create what experts call “sleep debt.” And unless you make sensible decisions, you could find yourself paying off both debts for years to come. Know Your Sleep Facts

1. Don’t doze and drive. According to William Dement, M.D., Ph.D. of the Stanford University Center of Excellence for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Sleep Disorders, 55 percent of sleep-related driving fatalities occur to those under the age of 25. Also, research at Stanford found that people who were tired because of disrupted sleep had reaction times that were as poor as subjects who were legally drunk!

2. Take care of your body. Dr. Eve Van Cauter of the Research Laboratory on Sleep, Chronobiology and Neuroendocrinology at the University of Chicago found that lack of sleep changes your hormones in ways that stimulate appetite. Another study from Columbia University looked at over 6,000 people and found that the less you sleep, the greater your risk of obesity. People who only slept two to four hours per night had a 73 percent greater risk of obesity than those who got seven to nine hours. Even a little sleep debt hurts—getting five hours increased obesity risk by 50 percent, getting six hours increased risk 23 percent.

3. Sleep on it. Researchers at The University of Pennsylvania found that sleep-deprived mice didn’t recall what they’d learned the day before. Similar results have been found with humans. Cramming the night before an exam doesn’t help. Without sleep, you won’t remember what you studied and your grades will likely suffer.

4. Keep the doctor away. Researchers at UCLA found that sleep loss compromises the immune system and the body’s inflammatory response. Your white blood cells actually behave differently after one night of interrupted sleep. People with long-term sleep debt have a higher risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and arthritis.

5. Get your beauty sleep. Growth hormone (GH), which is responsible for infant, child and young adult growth, helps regulate metabolism and promote healing as an adult. GH is secreted during deep sleep, so sleep deprivation makes it harder for your body to repair damage. Low levels of GH may even lead to some extra wrinkles as we age.

Your Sleep Game Plan

It’s not just about being in bed—it’s about getting good, quality rest. The science of preparing for good sleep is called “Sleep Hygiene” and there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Tips to try:

  1. Exercise at least 20 minutes every day. Working out in the morning or afternoon will make winding down easier, but working out late in the evening will rev you up.
  2. Keep a schedule—go to bed and get up at the same time every day. On weekends, don’t shift your schedule more than an hour. Sleeping until noon keeps you wide awake Sunday night, which makes your Monday morning class feel like a struggle.
  3. Beds are for sleeping—not homework, chatting on the phone or watching Conan. Hang out on your futon, catch Zs in your bed.
  4. Trade in your morning shower. Take a hot bath 90 minutes before sack time. It will soothe and relax your muscles. And when you get out, the drop in body temperature will make you sleepy.
  5. The big chill. Because sleepiness is related to that drop in body temperature, cool bedrooms promote better sleep. 72° is comfy for daytime, but the 60°s are better at night.
  6. Bye-bye nappy time. It feels good, but an afternoon nap sets you up for a bad night. If you’re too exhausted to function, nap less than one hour and only early in the day.
  7. Give it 20. If you don’t fall asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing—read a book, take a bath, do some yoga. Go back to bed when you feel sleepy.
  8. Free your mind. Thinking too much is bad for sleep. Make a habit of putting your to-do list on paper before hitting the pillow. If necessary, keep a pad and pencil by the bed so that you can write down thoughts and then let go of them to clear your mind.
  9. Take a lesson from Goldilocks. Your bed shouldn’t be too hard or too soft and you should have clean, comfy sheets. Find your personal level of comfort and stick to it.
  10. Learn to cope. Stress management works by relaxing your muscles and your mind. Dealing with stress is important. If stress hormones mount throughout the day, it can result in sleep failure at night. Try stretching, deep breathing, meditation, prayer, even counting sheep.
  11. Do the right thing. Evening coffee and alcohol both interfere with sleep. Smoking cigarettes can lead to sleep problems. So kick the bad habits. Also, eat right and avoid going to bed when you’re stuffed or starving.
  12. Be boring. A consistent bedtime routine sends powerful signals to your brain that prepare it for sleep. Do the same thing in the same order every night before bed.

The Fake?

Not possible. Caffeine or stimulants won’t fix sleep debt. Only pillow time will pay your bills.

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