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Wake up. Schoolwork. After-school activities. Dinner. Homework. Socializing. TV. For many students, high school and college alike, this cycle is standard practice five or more days each week.
Now add to this some other aspects of student life. High stress is common among students. So are late nights "cramming" for tests. And for many students there doesn't seem to be time for exercise. Then there are work-study and part-time jobs, tending to family (for married students) and of course some socializing - usually late night.
Given the increasingly stressful lifestyle of many students, its not surprising getting more sleep is in high demand and short supply.
The result, Accumulated sleep deprivation. The body really needs seven to eight hours of sleep, and adolescents need even more. But the average student gets 6.9 (down from 7.5 in 1980). The math is simple: if you sleep 6 hours a night, for seven nights straight, you accumulate 14 hours of sleep debt. This lack of sleep has been linked to numerous ailments ranging from a weakened immune system, to diminished physical performance, to difficulty focusing, learning, and retaining information- exactly the skills required to be a good student.
Sleep deprivation is a widespread problem. A 2005 National Sleep Foundation study found that 50% of respondents reported not getting enough sleep at least one night a week and 17% claimed lack of sleep almost every day. For students, however, the sleep-deprived lifestyle is often seen as a matter of sheer willpower. But in clinical studies, students trying to "power through" consecutive nights (or weeks) of reduced sleep experience slowed reaction times and exhibited a host of other performance problems. 20 hours of cumulative sleep debt can bring about symptoms that closely resemble being drunk.
Which brings up the matter of alcohol. On college campuses binge drinking isn't uncommon. The sleep that follows binge drinking is not restorative sleep because it doesn't allow the body to cycle through the natural stages of sleep.
So what's a student to do to raise their grades in the sleep department? Listen to your Circadian rhythms. Short naps (under 30 minutes) are okay to get a quick fix of rest, but prolonged and regular napping during the day throws your body out of synch with its natural sleep intervals. This makes getting to sleep harder at night and can also lead to restless sleep.
Next comes exercise. In addition to keeping you looking your best, regular exercise reduces stress and helps the body fall to sleep. Just give yourself 4-5 hours between workout and bedtime.
Avoid too much caffeine, especially at night. This means more than just coffee. There's caffeine in many teas, a lot of colas and sodas and in chocolate too.
Lastly, avoid studying in bed. Reserve your bed just for sleeping. You brain will make the association which will help it (and you) power down at nighttime.
One way to improve your approach to sleep is to think of sleep debt like credit card debt. If you just pay the minimum fee (in sleep) each day (or week, or month), you build up debt. Eventually you become buried in it and that when things start to break down. The occasional late night or long day is unavoidable, but try to pay back your sleep debt in full as soon as possible.