During finals week, most students must make choices on what to study and work on first. However, students may not consider decisions regarding when to sleep and for how long.
As finals approach, some college students face a variety of stressors, which could impact how they sleep during a given day. Despite the need to finish studying for a test or to complete a project, properly managing one’s sleep may need to be prioritized.
Tony Ruiz, physician assistant at the Tech Student Wellness Center, said some students deprive themselves of sleep by staying up late.
“It’s important to restore the mind, it’s important to restore the body,” he said regarding sleep. “If deprivation is profound enough, I mean, literally your cognition and judgment will be impaired.”
Having more time to retain information for a test is one reason students say they pull all-nighters, Ruiz said. Although, all-nighters actually can be detrimental to one’s learning retention.
“Sleep is actually necessary to process memories and new information that we learned,” he said. “So, if we don’t sleep properly, we aren’t processing all that stuff we learned that day. All that cramming you did, it’s very superficial. Very little is going to stick.”
Sleep is a cyclical process, Ruiz said. When sleeping, one has a circadian rhythm that can determine feelings of sleepiness throughout the day.
Because it is a cycle, Ruiz said students need to not disturb their regular sleep schedule by staying up late or sleeping late.
“It is also vital to try to keep it fairly regular,” he said regarding sleep schedules.
When studying for finals and completing final projects, some students may have to choose between staying up late to complete their work or waking up early to get tasks done.
Regardless if one sleeps in or stays up late, Ruiz said one should never disturb the sleep cycle. He said getting up early or staying up late will deprive a person of sleep.
“If you’re still depriving yourself of sleep, and you’re not getting proper sleep, it’s detrimental either way,” he said. “So, the takeaway there is try to get good solid sleep.”
One way students try to get extra sleep is by taking advantage of the snooze button to get small bouts of sleep after the first alarm, Ruiz said. Even though students may get extra sleep through this method, he said one will not get the proper rest they need.
“The problem with that is sleeping between 5 to 10 minute snoozes isn’t very restful sleep,” he said. “You’re telling yourself ‘Oh, it’s OK. I can hit the snooze button 12 times or whatever.’ But the sleep you’re getting between each snooze, it’s not restful sleep. You’re actually kind of shortchanging yourself instead of getting a continuous restful sleep, which is the alternative.”
Having one longer interval of sleep is better than hitting the snooze button multiple times, Ruiz said.
Despite mistakes to avoid when sleeping during finals week, one may first need to develop an efficient sleep schedule that helps one get enough energy for the day.
Dr. Christopher Rose, medical director of the Sleep Lab at Covenant Health, said the time when one wakes up should be consistent.
“The most important time to set in your schedule is your wake-up time, and you do get up and you turn your lights on,” he said.
People typically feel drowsy when waking up, Rose said. But, one should allow for a few minutes to become more alert.
In addition, the average college student should aim for about nine hours of sleep each day, Rose said.
“So, if you want to wake up at eight o’clock in the morning, wake up at eight o’clock in the morning and do that every day including weekends and then set your bedtime for nine hours before that,” he said. “Then, follow that pattern of staying in a routine and pattern and not alter that pattern.”
Regardless of when a student sets their nine hours, they should have plenty of time to study and have enough energy to study efficiently, Rose said. If a student needs more time to study or work on a project, it is acceptable to stay up an additional hour but no more.
When preparing to go to sleep, there may be other factors to consider, so one can get to sleep as soon as possible.
An hour before bed time, Rose said a person should dim lights, turn off screens and stop using technology. Even the blue LEDs in computer screens can make a person more awake, regardless if a person is doing something boring, such as reading or studying for a test.
“The blue LED hits retinal cells that produce melanopsin,” he said. “Melanopsin shuts off your body’s melatonin production. Even just looking at a screen makes it difficult to sleep.”
Even though they are detrimental when trying to get to sleep, Rose said using bright lights when waking up is necessary to become more awake.
Along with turning off screens and technology before bedtime, Rose said he suggests taking a hot shower. The shower will warm a person, which will make them more awake. But as one cools down, the cooling trend tells the body to go to sleep.
“Your body cools down until about two hours before you wake up,” he said. “Two hours before you wake up is the coldest body temperature of the day, and at about two hours before you wake up, your body starts warming up, and that signals that it’s about time to wake up.”
Regarding sleep schedules for college students, whether it be during finals week or not, there may be certain issues students need to avoid to get proper rest.
For people who think they can make up missed hours of sleep by taking naps, Rose said problems could arise.
When taking a nap in the middle of the day to get some rest that was missed during the previous morning, one may not be able to fall asleep at the normal time they usually would, as naps can fragment sleep for the next night, Rose said. One cannot make up for missed sleep.
Because of this, Rose said having a set wake up time and sleep time every day is needed, as if a person sleeps late one day, their sleep cycle can be delayed.
This management of one’s sleep schedule could lead to issues, such as delayed phase circadian rhythm disorder, Rose said.
Rose tends to see a lot of college students who claim they have insomnia because they cannot get to sleep as easily as they used to weeks prior, he said. But because a student disrupted their sleep schedule and their circadian rhythm is off, delayed phase circadian rhythm disorder is what they are actually facing.
Insomnia consists of not being able to shut one’s brain off and go to sleep, which happens on consecutive days, Rose said. One with delayed phase circadian rhythm disorder can sleep fine if he or she is able to follow the sleep schedule that was originally set.
“If they were allowed to go to bed at 2 o’clock in the morning and wake up at 11 o’clock in the morning for a nine-hour sleep phase, they would have no daytime sleepiness at all,” he said.
Regardless of how one should manage his or her sleep schedule, a person may need to be aware of the negative short-term or long-term consequences that could arise when this schedule is mismanaged.
Dr. Gilbert Berdine, associate professor of medicine in the Tech Health Sciences Center Department of Internal Medicine, said sleep deprivation impairs mood, behavior and high levels of thinking. Because of this impairment, one should prepare for finals as early as possible, so he or she can set aside enough time to sleep.
“So, why do people cram and stay up late? Well, they’re trying to make a trade-off,” he said. “If they don’t have any knowledge, they are going to do badly on the test. If they stay up all night and are sleep deprived, they’re going to do somewhat badly on the test.”
When a person deprives themselves of sleep, Berdine said there can be long-term effects, such as being more susceptible to infections.
“If you don’t have enough time for sleep, you’re not having the self-repair, and you’re likely to get sick a lot,” he said.
All mammals need sleep to live, Berdine said. When one does not sleep to study for a final, that person can hinder their performance in class the next day.
“We don’t really know what happens during sleep,” he said. “But we know it’s essential to life.