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Sleep deprivation increases as freshman adjust to college

Sept. 17, 2003

By Lindsey Gomez, reporter

Whether through welfare, child protective services or counseling, social workers help those who need it most.

'It seems like social workers have a sense of calling and interest in working with people that others aren't interested in working with,' Dr. Dennis Myers, professor of social work, said. 'When everyone else walks out, social workers walk in.'

As students' memories of summer begin to fade along with their tans, many have started to experience the symptoms of sleep deprivation. Warning signs include glazed eyes, lack of concentration, anxiety and excessive consumption of caffeine.

According to Meredith Doerries, a Houston senior and nutrition counselor at Baylor's Integrated Life Center, sleep deprivation is an epidemic that affects college students, and its effects are greatly underestimated.

Tests have shown that sleep-deprived people may have equal or worse hand-eye coordination while driving than those who have had two alcoholic beverages. In fact, sleep-deprived drivers are responsible for 100,000 motor vehicle accidents a year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Researchers say seven to eight hours of sleep a night is adequate for most individuals, but some Baylor students said they average six hours of sleep a night.

Clesandra Watson, a Dallas freshman, explained what causes her lack of sleep.

'I spend time taking part in different organizations, and then I come back and try to keep up with my homework,' Watson said.

Experts from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes said people adjust to getting inadequate sleep, but lack of sleep eventually affects reaction time, judgment, memory and energy level.

'If I go a few nights with only three or four hours of sleep, the fourth day is going to start getting really rough,' Megan Needham, a Tonganoxie, Kan., freshman, said.

Doerries said sleep is important for college students because they need it to fully process information.

The rapid eye movement cycle, the fifth cycle of sleep, helps to facilitate long-term memory, Doerries said.

A typical person usually reaches the REM stage about five times a night, but a sleep-deprived person's progression of the REM cycle is interrupted. The less a person sleeps, the fewer REM cycles entered per night.

Some students like Traci Bowman, a Bedford junior, try to balance school and work.

'I get stressed out because I feel like I don't have enough time to do all my homework, so I don't feel prepared in class, and I don't function well when I'm tired anyway,' Bowman said.

Other students, like Olivia Laska, a Sugar Land freshman, also notice a change in their sleeping patterns now that they're attending college.

'In high school I'd get a lot more sleep, and I could concentrate better,' Laska said.

Researchers also say sleep deprivation can be risky, and caffeine and other stimulants can't erase the effects of exhaustion.

James McKin, a Beaumont, freshman, said he pushes sleep aside when trying to balance studying, extracurricular activities, socializing, jobs or other obligations.

'It's a kid's choice whether they get enough sleep,' McKin said. 'I could go to sleep at 8 [p.m.] if I wanted, but I just don't.'

Doerries said time management is important to maintain a healthy sleeping pattern.

Many student-athletes must learn to manage their time practicing during the day, studying at night and still getting enough sleep to perform well in school and sports.

While napping is common among college students, Baylor's Integrated Life Web site says naps should be short, lasting about 30 minutes.

Doerries explained students often have trouble sleeping when they don't follow some sort of schedule.

'Consistency is very important,' Doerries said. 'Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day â make it a huge priority.'

'Like the milk thing,' Laska said. 'Instead of 'Got Milk?' [College students should ask themselves] 'Got Sleep?''