Sleep (Smart) Through Exam Week

It’s that time of the semester again. Packed libraries, overconsumption of caffeine, and late-night textbook cramming: the not-good-for-you but often repeated formula for exam week. In most cases, this means students are getting too little sleep. Though getting the extra hour of studying in may help you on your exam the next day, perpetually losing an hour of sleep can negatively affect your health in the long run.

According to sleep disorders specialist and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep, Dr. Michael Breus, when you stay up late, your metabolism slows down and your body releases more of the cortisol (an inflammatory) and ghrelin hormones, making you hungrier. Conversely, there is less release of the leptin hormone, which tells you to stop eating. In other words, your body demands more food to keep your energy levels up, and does not know when to stop craving food.

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When I am at the library late at night, I always see students reading their books while eating junk food like chips and candy, most of which are carb-heavy and lack substantial nutritional value. In addition to a lack of sleep, consuming processed foods can lead to weight gain because they contain “empty calories” and simple sugars that do not have any vitamins or minerals. Simple sugars, (candy, sugary pastries, etc.) are a tempting quick treat, because the sugar causes an instant insulin and consequent energy boost, but with that, comes an inevitable, and usually quick, crash.

Less sleep also means a shorter REM (restful rapid-eye movement) cycle—which is when we burn the most calories, compared to the other parts of our sleep cycle. Thus, those unburned calories stick around and make themselves at home.

Make sure to follow these easy steps to regulate your stress and sleep habits:

  1. Exercise! Exercising helps control your stress, allowing you to get a more restful and deeper sleep.
  2. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night, and try to keep your sleep schedule consistent. As a college student, I know how hard this can be with a fluctuating amount of work each day, but you will sleep better if you can sleep and get up at around the same times every day.
  3. Try to mentally and physically relax yourself before going to bed. Limit activity that involves bright LED lights (i.e. televisions, computers), and engage in calming activities like writing in a journal or giving yourself a quick neck massage.
  4. Separate your work and sleep- it is important to make your room a place of relaxation and not of studying. Specifically, ensure (and this may be hard, especially living in a dorm) that you don’t condition yourself to think that your bed is a place of study and concentration and not sleeping… this will affect your ability to rest and actually sleep in your bed. That way, your body will be conditioned to want to sleep once you enter your room, and not continue working.
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