Groggy during finals? Get some sleep, kid

Tom Moran

As the semester approaches the eleventh hour, the need for sleep is rising.

Students and the general public need to start thinking of sleep as a biological need and not a luxury, Mark Mahowald, professor of neurology at the University, said.

He said maintaining enough sleep is important for students to succeed while preparing for midterms, finals and projects.

“Any degree of sleep deprivation impairs ability,” Mahowald said.

Sleep deprivation negatively affects attention span, moods, the learning process and memory, Kyla Wahlstrom, director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University, said.

She said students who don’t sleep enough before a test won’t be able to cope with stress well, will have difficulty recalling details and will struggle to integrate separate ideas into one thought.

Wahlstrom said pulling an all-nighter before an exam is one of the worst things a student could do.

“It’s almost like a knock-out punch,” she said.

One of the biggest dangers of sleep deprivation is getting behind the wheel, Mahowald said, who is also the director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorder Center at Hennepin County Medical Center.

One night of sleep deprivation is as impairing as an illegally intoxicated blood alcohol content level, and car crashes spurred by sleep deprivation kill more adults 25 years old and younger than alcohol impairment each year, he said.

“The prime time (for such car crashes) is driving home after finals,” Mahowald said.

Sleep requirements are genetically decided and can’t be changed, he said. The average number of hours needed for sleep is about eight, he said.

He said anyone who wakes to an alarm clock has some degree of sleep deprivation.

Mahowald said people can fully make up their sleep debt by resting for one-third of the time they should’ve slept.

A nap as short as 15 minutes can have a positive impact, Wahlstrom said.

Michael Modry, a psychology junior, said he doesn’t get the sleep he should. He said he has to pull an all-nighter at least once every two weeks to study, but likes to stay up regardless of whether he has homework.

He said he wishes he could arrange classes to his ideal schedule but couldn’t manage it. Modry said sleep deprivation makes him tired throughout the day, but he uses caffeine to keep going.

“I’m kind of an addict,” Modry said.

Sleep disorders can also cause students to get less than the sleep they need.

If a student is having trouble sleeping, he or she should try to keep a consistent sleep schedule, avoid forcing themselves to lie awake in bed and avoid stimulation before sleeping.

Watching television, being active on a computer, drinking alcohol and social interaction can lead to difficulty falling asleep.

Twenty percent of adults have complained of insomnia, but everyone has trouble sleeping at some point, Mahowald said.

Pat Arneson, a nurse at the Sleep Center at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, said insomnia is underreported and undertreated.

She said if students consistently can’t sleep, they should talk to their physicians or visit a sleep center.

Insurance will often cover treatment at these centers, she said.