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Sweet Dreamzzz Campaign Helps Students Sleep Tight

For The Heights

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01


Maggie Burdge / Heights Editor

“I wish you would  spend one third of your lives in a state of hallucination and paralysis,” said Roxanne Prichard, Ph.D., in front of an audience of about 200 Boston College students while talking about sleep as part of the “Sweet Dreamzzz” campaign. The new campaign, part of the Office of Health Promotion’s initiative for the year, strives to “identify barriers of sleeping well and develop coping strategies that really work,” according to their website.

Prichard, an associate professor of psychology at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, has a background in neuroanatomy and circadium rhythms, in addition to a specialization in college students’ sleep habits. Through her down-to-earth humor and friendly demeanor, Prichard engaged the audience in an interesting conversation that included interactive and informative quizzes and Ryan Gosling memes.

The lecture hall was nearly filled before the event even began, and a stream of students lingered by the railings of the classroom hoping to find seats. The first 150 students to arrive were given blue cards with a questionnaire and a colored ticket. Depending on the color of the ticket, the students could collect a different “sleep-enhancing prize” at the end of the session. Prizes varied from fleece blankets to eye masks to ear plugs.

As the event began, Prichard first asked the audience how many days in the past week they woke up feeling well-rested. Unsurprisingly, few students were able to say that they awoke well-rested five to seven days of the week. Prichard had calculated that the mean total sleep time of a college student is only 7.02 hours a night, including naps and resting. Only 11 percent of students, her research finds, get more than eight hours of sleep per night, even though most people need 8.5 hours of sleep.

Ever heard a student say that they can stay up later because they can simply catch up on sleep over the weekend? Prichard surprised the audience and countered that, in reality, only 30 to 40 percent of lost sleep can be restored. Such loss of sleep may directly result in poor academic performance, increased anxiety and stress, and other various negative affects. For example, a surprisingly large numer of college students, 19.4 percent, reported academic suffering as a result of sleep.

Yet there was more than digits involved in Prichard’s lecture—there was also the science behind sleep. Sleep is divided into three general stages: awake, REM, and non-REM. REM sleep is the stage in which people have vivid dreams that tend to be illogical or emotional. Non-REM, the deepest form of sleep, is when a person endures what Prichard nicknames “sleep drunkeness.” The body rests during your non-REM cycle, and thus the more hours of sleep received the more non-REM stages the brain can use to process information from that day.

Furthermore, whether or not someone is a morning or a night person affects sleep drastically. College students often find themselves staying up later at night, because, as Prichard jokingly pointed out, nobody wants to drink mimosas at 7 a.m. Between the ages of 18 and 21, the brain is still undifferentiated, unsure of whether or not it finds the morning or the night more suitable. By age 25, however, the brain has differentiated and adapted itself to either one of these times of day to function at its highest level. Many college students choose to evolve into “night owls,” which, Prichard said, means that they are more likely to suffer from various diseases, disorders, addictions, and weakened immune systems.

“You are physically able to sleep. You just need to take the time to do it,” Prichard said. She outlined steps students can take to improve their sleeping habits and regulate their circadium rhythms, including tracking sleep (Prichard suggests a sleep application for smart phones called “SleepTracker”), knowing environmental cues that keep people awake, warning the brain 45 minutes before the desired sleep time by “unplugging,” and more.

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