Students' course load, finals taking toll on sleep patterns

By Raya Tahan and Bryan Hance

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The finals rush is upon us and, as usual, normal sleep patterns are disturbed to handle the extra workload.

"I just have too much to do," said Kari Emery, art history junior. "It's just not humanly possible to get it all done."

Dr. Richard Bootzin, a sleep specialist in the Psychology Department, said 10 to 15 percent of young adults suffer from severe insomnia, and an additional 10 to 15 percent have trouble falling asleep occasionally.

"College students tend to keep irregular sleep schedules due to lots of classes or socialization," said Rachel Manber, associate professor of psychology and psychiatry. "What gives is their sleep, and they try to make up for it by waking up late."

The irregular sleep patterns of college students make them sleepy during the day, Bootzin said.

Insomnia includes difficulty falling asleep, awakenings during the night, early-morning awakenings and the experience of poor-quality sleep. It can result from medical conditions or lifestyle choices, Bootzin said.

Chronic pain, such as that caused by arthritis, can prohibit one's ability to fall asleep. Sleep apnea, a disorder that causes individuals to stop breathing while asleep, is another cause of insomnia, Bootzin said.

History senior Juan Herrera said he has experienced difficulty falling asleep since he was in junior high school.

"Most nights, I'm not sleeping at all," he said. "Sometimes I'm physically tired, but I still can't fall asleep."

Herrera's lack of sleep annoys him and causes him stress, he said, but it has not affected his schoolwork or personal life.

More often, factors such as stress, caffeine intake or a noisy sleep environment are the cause of sleep deprivation in college students, Bootzin said.

Manber said, "By and large, the biggest sleep problem of college students is the fact that they underestimate how much they need sleep."

Computer science freshman Joshua Leahy said he loses sleep about once or twice a month due to a heavy course load.

"I felt exhausted and weak and burnt out," he said, "That's also when I turned in my worst grades. It was just bad on my body."

Dr. Lynne Smiley, a nutritionist with the UA's Student Health Center, said the occasional lack of sleep is normal, but there is a limit to how often a person can forgo sleep.

"A couple of days most of us can handle, but beyond that, health tends to decline," she said.

A weakened immune system, increased appetite and a lack of concentration are a few of the effects of sleep deprivation, she said.

"The bottom line is, you need to feel rested 80 percent of the time. If you can do that, then it's not going to be a problem to your health," Smiley said.

The most important thing is to establish a sleep pattern that is as regular as possible, Bootzin said. The most severe health problems result from an abuse of sleeping pills, alcohol, caffeine or other substances taken to control sleep-wake patterns.

"Sometimes when you're up for a long time, you get so anxious that you can't relax," Smiley said.

Hypnotics, such as sleeping pills, are frequently prescribed for insomnia, Bootzin said.

"Despite their frequent use, hypnotics are not the treatment of choice for persistent insomnia because they lose effectiveness with prolonged use and often produce problems with dependence."

A number of non-pharmaceutical approaches exist to assist in falling asleep.

Individuals can prevent insomnia by becoming aware of their sleep patterns and environment. Spending extended time in bed during the day and keeping irregular sleep-wake schedules frequently lead to the inability to fall asleep at night, Bootzin said.

Exciting or emotionally-upsetting activities, exercising and ingesting caffeine or nicotine should be avoided close to bedtime, Bootzin said.

"If people can learn to be relaxed at bedtime," Bootzin said, "they will fall asleep faster."

Relaxation training utilizes this concept via meditation, yoga and hypnosis. It provides a means of helping to induce sleep as well as a set of coping skills to deal more effectively with stresses of the day, Bootzin said.

Further questions regarding insomnia can be directed to UMC's insomnia clinic at 626-6254.

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