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Sleepless nights harm body

Nov. 14, 2006

Kristina Bateman/Lariat staff
Some students rely on energy drinks to keep them alert and awake, but studies show this could be detrimental to their health.


As our nation becomes more industrialized, Americans are getting less sleep.

Chronic, long-term sleeping disorders affect about 40 million Americans each year, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Dr. Charles Weaver, professor of psychology and neuroscience, said the most common disorder is sleep apnea.

"Sleep apnea is a disturbance associated with breathing difficulties. It disrupts sleep enough to get people to wake up and roll over and not be aware that they have been awakened," Weaver said. "They can be in bed for eight hours but awaken a dozen times a night."

Weaver said the disorder is common in children and those suffering from obesity.

The majority of college students who have trouble sleeping suffer from insomnia, which Weaver said is not a sleep disorder, but rather an inability to sleep, usually due to stress.

Weaver said the most common source of insomnia for students is caffeine.

"Red Bull is loaded with caffeine and sugar," Weaver said. "People that say it has no effect don't know what's going on. It does have an effect; it just affects people differently. It will inevitably increase heart rate."

Weaver said chronic lack of sleep leads to concentration and visual problems.

In his study, Stanford researcher Matthew Stolzar touched on the topic of sleep debt, which is the accumulation of a lack of sleep. Sleeping fewer hours will cause a person to make up for the lack of sleep by sleeping in on the subsequent day. Stolzar said other studies have shown that sleep deprived individuals who sleep about eight hours a night for 12 consecutive nights will still show signs of deprivation.

Weaver said the most serious physiological problem with sleep deprivation is that it makes people sleep and it can reach a point where it's hard to keep their eyes open.

Carol Kzandig, a registered nurse at Providence Hospital, said sleep deprivation can also stem from drug dependency.

"Various people complain about having trouble going to sleep," Kzandig said. "Most say they go to sleep fine but don't stay asleep. They wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning and have trouble going to sleep."

Stolzar said sleep debt may play a role in affecting the performance of those who are willing to give up sleep for grades.

"I believe that some individuals are better at functioning with a high sleep debt than others, and this can be an advantage academically," Stolzar said.

Stolzar's study also found sleep correlations in gender.

"In my data set, college women slept less than college men, but in terms of their parents, mothers slept more than fathers. My explanation for this is that parents of college students come from a generation where women were less encouraged to work in the labor market than men," Stolzar said.

"The current wage ratio of women to men in the labor force, though rising, is approximately 75-80 cents to the dollar, meaning on average, men have more of an incentive to provide labor market hours than women, and thus less of an incentive to sleep. At the college level, women and men have more equivalent incentives and thus equivalent incentives to sleep."

Weaver said sleep is poorly understood.

"It seems to be one of our evolutionary things," Weaver said. "If you're a creature like us, it's not safe to walk around at night. If you walk around at night, you're going to get eaten, and so our species do better if between sunrise and sunset we lay low in a cave. You can see why there would be an adaptive value for not going out with the tigers."