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Sleeping habits for college students

Like most students at Missouri Western, senior Cameron Toliver would find herself constantly waking up tired, suffering through classes and not being able to sleep until two in the morning, just to relive the cycle all over again.

It was not until Toliver visited a pulmonologist after a sleep study that she learned how often she was unknowingly waking up in the middle of the night due to the fact that her breathing was actually starting and stopping repeatedly. She was then diagnosed with central sleep apnea.

“Prior to finding out that I had sleep apnea, I did not know whether or not there was a correlation between it and the insomnia, but the two actually do go hand in hand,” Toliver said.

Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send signals to the muscles that control breathing. When this happens, shortness of breath, trouble falling asleep (insomnia) or excessive daytime sleepiness occurs.  Toliver experienced many physical problems including terrible headaches, excessive thirstiness from having a dry mouth and attention and concentration problems.

Sleep apnea also affected Toliver emotionally. Later, after finding out about the disorder, she learned to cope with this obstacle in her life.

“It affected me emotionally because I would experience an emotional rollercoaster daily in regards to how quickly my mood could go from being happy one moment to being angry or in tears the next,” Toliver said. “I can honestly say that things are better as long as I use my BiPAP machine at night, but it took a lot of getting used to that constant air pressure being blown into my face.”

While Toliver does deal with sleep apnea, she also struggles with insomnia at times as well. According to the National Institutes of Health, 18 percent of college men and 30 percent of college women report having suffered from insomnia in the past three months. In addition, according to research from Brown University, approximately 11 percent of students report sleeping well while 73 percent report sleep problems.

Many college students underestimate the need for and importance of a good night’s sleep. Poor sleeping patterns and habits can occur due to the stresses of classes and jobs, the independence of living away from home and still trying to maintain a social life. Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep is more harmful than students might think.

But how can you get a good night’s sleep when there are constant projects, homework and other things stressing you out? Simply, the cure for sleep difficulties can be found in your daily routine. Your sleep schedule, diet and bedtime habits can make a huge difference in the quality of how much a person sleeps.

Some ways college students can improve their sleeping patterns and stress levels include exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy diet, setting (and following) a regular bedtime, turning off electronics, meditating and making sure the bed is comfortable.

Marti Burri, a registered nurse at Missouri Western’s Esry Student Health Center, feels that students can wind down at night by doing some relaxing bedtime rituals.

“Take a warm bath, listen to soft music, read a book or magazine with a soft light or even listening to books on tape are great ways to get your body ready for bed,” Burri said.

In addition to creating a relaxing bedtime routine, eating right and exercising regularly can play an important role in how well you sleep. Thirty minutes of activity helps, whether it’s going to the gym, lifting weights, walking or even yoga.

“Cutting down on caffeine and staying away from a lot of liquids in the evenings are also ways to sleep better,” Burri said. “Being organized and exercising plays a huge role; it relieves stress and helps the body and mind relax.”

With having good sleeping habits, students will feel better, get better grades and be more alert. Being overly tired and not getting the right amount of sleep can cause moodiness, lack of energy and concentration, stress, difficulty retaining information, grades dropping and even struggling to get out of bed in the mornings.

Beth Roderick, also a nurse practitioner at Esry, believes that taking baby steps in changing your daily routine will help students who wish to have more energy throughout the day.

“Change one thing different each week, don’t try and change everything at once. For example, set a goal, maybe exercise, or stop drinking caffeine a few hours before bed and see if those things help,” Roderick said.

Although Toliver still struggles with sleeping, she feels it’s important for students to try and get plenty of rest, regardless of having a disorder or not.

“It is very important for college students to get plenty of sleep to deal with the rigorous expectations that college requires of its students, especially when you’re sitting in the middle of an extremely boring lecture class and are struggling to stay awake and focused,” Toliver said.

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