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Summary of Student Sleep & Wellness Talk by Dr. Michael Pollock (Fall 2018)

Posted by Theresa Wanninger | Posted on November 30, 2018 | See all Stress Management posts | Latest Wellness Blog posts

Dr. Michael Pollock, instructor with Camosun's Psychology department, held a talk looking at the relationship between sleep and college students.

OVERVIEW

  • How common are sleep complaints amongst college students?
  • How much do college students typically sleep?
  • How much sleep do you actually need?
  • How can you best improve your sleep?

PREVALENCE OF SLEEP COMPLAINTS IN COLLEGE STUDENTS

(Gress-Smith et al., 2013)
  • Less than 1/3rd (31%) of students report no insomnia
  • Over 2/3rds (69%) of students report having at least some symptoms of insomnia
    • In comparison, only 1/3rd of general population report this! (Szelenberger & Soldatos, 2005)
  • Over 1/5th (22%) of students report having moderate to severe insomnia
  • 3% of students report having severe insomnia
    • 2/3rds of students with severe insomnia also report having moderate to severe depressive symptoms
  • However, insomnia ≠ ↓ objective sleep quantity
    • Rather, is defined by subjective reports of the inability to obtain sleep that is sufficiently long or ‘good enough’ to result in feeling rested/restored

HOW MUCH DO COLLEGE STUDENTS TYPICALLY SLEEP?

  • On average, undergraduate college/university students find they typically sleep just less than 7 hours of sleep each night, which is not significantly different then their same-age non-student peers (Dickinson et al., 2018)
  • However, there is a large degree of variability between students in the amount of sleep they typically achieve (Hicks & Pellegrini, 1991; Hicks et al., 1992)

HOW MUCH SLEEP DO YOU ACTUALLY NEED?

  • A genuine answer to this question requires an understanding of ‘Why we sleep?’
    • Need to know what it accomplishes in order to answer “How much?”
    • Avoid confusing need fulfillment with relieving discomfort
      • For example, If you asked your doctor “How much sleep should I get?”, he’d likely reply: “Sleep enough to keep from feeling sleepy.”
      • But if you asked your doctor “What is a sensible diet?”, would you be satisfied if he replied: “Eat enough to keep from feeling hungry”?
  • There is currently no consensus in scientific community as to what the function of sleep is
  • However, there is evidence of its importance:
    • TYPICAL SLEEP DURATION & MORTALITY RATES
      (Gallicchio & Kalesan, 2009; Shen, Wu, & Zhang, 2016)
      • For several decades, the American Cancer Society has found through surveys of millions of people that individuals that sleep who sleep close to the average amount (7hrs/night) are the least likely to die
      • Hazard is greatest for long sleepers than for short sleepers
      • Long sleep (≥ 8 hrs/night) accounts for an estimated 5% of all deaths
      • If long sleep is the cause of the deaths associated with it, it would be the 4th leading cause of death--a greater risk than even diabetes!
    • TYPICAL SLEEP DURATION & COGNITIVE PERFORMANCE
      (Wild et al., 2018)
      • The World’s largest sleep study was recently published and found that getting too little or too much sleep was associated with worse reasoning ability, verbal ability, and overall cognitive performance
      • Impairments seen at the most extreme sleep amounts (3 or 12 hrs/night) show effects sizes of 0.4 standard deviations below performance seen with optimal sleep amounts (7-7.5 hrs/night)
        • This would be considered a small effect size by common effect size rules of thumb (Sawilowsky, 2009)
        • The distribution in performance scores between the 2 groups (a group of extreme sleepers vs a group of normal sleepers) would overlap by 74%
          • This level of difference would not achieve statistical significance if the sizes of the groups being compared were typical Camosun classroom sizes (30 students per group)
      • INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN RESPONSE TO EXPERIMENTAL SLEEP DEP
        (Van Dongen, Maislin, & Dinges, 2004)
        • There is large variability in the response to sleep deprivation across people
          • Some subjects are more resilient while others are more vulnerable
        • Different subjects can show impairments on different cognitive tasks
          • E.g., vigilance tasks vs. working memory tasks
        • The same subjects can be markedly impaired on performance, but still rate themselves subjectively as only moderately sleepy
          • Suggests we are poor at self-judging what our true sleep needs are

HOW CAN YOU BEST IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP?

  • Sleep hygiene
    • Identify lifestyle habits (such as caffeine and alcohol use) and environmental factors (such as light, noise, and temperature) that may unknowingly affect sleep
  • Stimulus control
    • Patients learn to associate being in bed with going to sleep
    • They learn not to do anything in the bedroom that does not help them sleep
  • Cognitive therapy
    • Uncover errors of thinking that might be responsible for the insomnia
      • E.g., thinking that getting a full night’s sleep every night is absolutely essential can sometimes cause only more arousal/anxiety, which in turn can lead to more insomnia
    • Help clients identify & reprogram maladaptive thought patterns
      • When trying to fall asleep, instead of brooding over the next day’s uncertainties, distract your mind by counting sheep or imagining colourful scenes
  • Progressive relaxation technique
    • Patients learn to recognize and control muscular tension
  • Sleep restriction
    • Patients keep to a strict schedule of bed times and wake times that at first increases their sleepiness by depriving them of sleep
    • Patient is not allowed to be in bed during the scheduled wake times (no naps)
    • Is the most efficient of the above methods for treating insomnia
    • Does not require a patient to see a trained therapist in order to get an effect

CONCLUSIONS

  • Get some sleep
  • Not too little
  • But also not too much
    • Restrict sleep amount to prevent it from becoming inefficient
  • Track your own variables
  • Run correlational analyses on the variables that are most relevant to you (e.g., your sleep, mood, performance, & health variables) to find out what works best for you

woman sleeping in bed

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