During Reading Period, Students Should Examine, Treat Dangerous Sleep Habits

Nina Li, Contributing Writer

As a student, exams are one of the most important things in my academic career. However, school and tests don’t always go as well as I expect, especially because I suffer from insomnia. At first I didn’t think my sleeping habits were a problem, because they did not affect me much. I’ve had insomnia since high school, and my mom also suffered from insomnia, so I thought it was normal if a person just couldn’t sleep well — which is why I had never tried to find a solution. During my first year at Oberlin, I had a biology final exam and stayed up late preparing and reviewing the materials. I went to bed at almost 2 a.m. Because I was exhausted, I thought it would be very easy to fall asleep, but I was totally wrong. I tossed and turned restlessly all night because I was too nervous. I kept telling myself that I needed to fall asleep as soon as possible, but I just couldn’t. Without good sleep, I had a headache and felt drowsy during the exam. All the material I reviewed the previous night completely disappeared from my memory. I couldn’t remember how human bodies make proteins, and I couldn’t remember how to spell the word “metabolism.” What a shame for a biology student! Of course, I didn’t do well on my exam. After this incident, I began to wonder why I had this sleep problem and how I could prevent it from happening again.

As we approach the end of this semester, exams and reading period might worsen anxiety as well as sleeping problems like insomnia. In this pre-exam time, it is crucial to educate students on insomnia and sleep problems and provide solutions for how to deal with them. First, ask yourself a few questions: Does it take you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep? Do you wake up during the night and have trouble returning to sleep? Do you wake up earlier than desired? Do you have daytime symptoms such as fatigue, moodiness, sleepiness or reduced energy? Do you get less than seven hours of sleep each night? If you answered “yes” to some or all of these questions, then you may have insomnia.

Stress, illness, emotional or physical discomfort or interferences in normal sleep schedule can all lead to insomnia. Behind those causes are two hormones that control our sleep. Human bodies are like delicate machines, controlled by thousands of molecular signaling pathways. Our sleeping patterns are also under the control of multiple hormones. The commonly recognized one is cortisol. Cortisol is usually considered a stress hormone, which is released in response to stressors in the environment. It is also called the “awakening hormone,” which wakes us from sleep. Excess cortisol from chronic stress lowers our ability to sleep deeply. Inadequate or low-quality sleep then increases cortisol, making it increasingly difficult to deal with stress. Another hormone, which generally occurs in females, is progesterone. Throughout the menstruation cycle, progesterone level is low. Especially near the end of the premenstrual phase, the low progesterone levels have been known to correlate with insomnia as well as other symptoms such as aggressive behavior, irritability and depressed mood.

Usually, mild insomnia does not require medication. However, if the lack of sleep makes you feel uncomfortable or unable to function properly, sleep aid products such as melatonin and diphenhydramine can be helpful. These are readily available over the counter at Gibson’s and CVS. If those sleep aid products don’t help, you can go to the Student Health, where you can receive prescriptions and other sleeping advice.

Establishing better sleep habits is also very important. Here are some tips: Try to go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, and try not to take long naps during the day, as naps may make you less sleepy at night. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol late in the day. Get regular exercise but not too close to bedtime. Don’t eat a heavy meal late in the day. Make your bedroom comfortable. Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep or sex. If you can’t fall asleep and don’t feel drowsy, get up and read or do something that is not overly stimulating until you feel sleepy. If you find yourself lying awake worrying about things, try making a to-do list before you go to bed.

Insomnia is a significant problem, and therefore we should treat it seriously. Sleep tight, and good luck on finals.