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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Dreaming of More Sleep

JESSE STESHENKO / AGGIE

A look at how students can reevaluate their sleep habits

Students across the UC Davis campus can all too often be found melting into uncomfortable chairs for their scheduled or impromptu midday naps.

While it could take an especially taxing week to rattle the rigid sleep schedules of some students, other students may regularly have difficulty getting enough sleep, either due to behavior and stress or because of a diagnosable sleep disorder. To address these problems, UC Davis has several outlets for helping, treating and counseling students who are seeking to correct unhealthy sleep patterns.

The most readily accessible options are offered by Student Health and Counselling Services (SHCS) within the Student Health and Wellness Center.

“Our medical providers help screen for medical conditions that may interfere with restful sleep and take a careful history to help identify possible contributing factors,” said Dr. Cindy Schorzman, a medical director for SHCS.

Schorzman emphasized that students can be most successful in developing healthier sleep patterns when they direct their attention to small variables that they can control. However, this type of self-evaluation may prove difficult for students to conduct objectively, which is why seeking input from medical providers may be a useful step for students looking to influence their sleep with behavioral changes.

“They often start to address these [problems] by recommending sleep hygiene techniques, which include getting up the same time every day, avoiding substances that can interfere with sleep and avoiding the use of electronic devices while in bed,” Schorzman said.

Meeting with these medical providers or the counselors at North Hall can help students find the help they are searching for in assessing their sleep patterns. However, Schorzman clarified that the help offered through these channels is mainly catered toward students who are experiencing sleep troubles as a result of external factors, such as midterms and finals, rather than sleep disorders.

Since sleep issues can negatively impact many aspects of someone’s general health and productivity, considering how other physical and mental health complications either cause or worsen sleep deprivation is an important factor to study. In other words, it is a process of discovering what came first, the chicken or the egg.

“Sleep issues may be secondary to other conditions, including mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression, or physical health concerns such as pain disrupting sleep or sleep apnea,” Schorzman said. “Primary sleep disorders are less common and suspicion of these will often lead to a specialist referral.”

With these more serious cases involving actual sleep disorders, patients may require more specialized treatment through sleep medicine professionals. This is available through the UC Davis Health System at the Sleep Medicine Consultation Clinic in Sacramento, which deals with sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, sleepwalking and REM sleep behavior disorder. The clinic’s Sleep Disorders Laboratory conducts sleep studies to help diagnose these disorders.

“In sleep studies, we measure several physiological parameters and take video recordings monitoring breathing, heart rate, or physical movements as someone sleeps,” said Dr. Matthew Chow, an assistant clinical professor of neurology and sleep medicine. “We look for disruptions in these parameters, which can be associated with various sleep disorders.”

Meanwhile, on the third floor of the Student Health and Wellness Center, Emilia Aguirre, UC Davis’s mental well-being and health promotion specialist, works to provide resources for students seeking input on the many health problems that can permeate into every aspect of daily life, including sleep.

“My focus is to foster a health-promoting campus environment that enables students to succeed academically and achieve life-long mental well-being,” Aguirre said. “For sleep health, this means advocating for a campus environment which supports student sleep. At Health Education and Promotion, we provide students with the education and resources so that they can aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night.”

Aguirre listed several of the information pages and resources that are available for students online. These include lists of tips for healthy sleep habits, blogs on sleep-related topics, an online program for conquering insomnia, the UC Davis Nap Map and even a power nap class that is offered at the ARC.

Camilia Zaher, a fourth-year psychology major and a Health Education and Promotion student coordinator, works closely with Aguirre and is involved with campaigns that help promote sleep health.

“This year, our Sleep Campaign [‘Be Wise, Shut your Eyes’] was held on the week of Oct. 30 to Nov. 3,” Zaher said. “Our main goals are to increase awareness among students about the importance of getting seven to nine hours of consistent, restful, sleep and to encourage students to make sleeping a priority in their schedules by reducing use of technology and exposure to blue light before bed.”

Zaher has worked on many projects, including collaborating with the Yoga Club to promote before-bed relaxation methods, increasing messaging at locations like the dining commons and residence halls and even having professors give talks on the matter.

“We held two crash course events about sleep that were lead by psychology professors,” Zaher said. “Professor Adele Seelke […] spoke to students about the neurobiology of sleep and how it changes across development [and] Professor Camelia Hostinar […] spoke to us about sleep and its role in health, emotional well-being, and academic performance.”

By this time of the quarter, stress and anxiety levels among students are hitting their peak, which can only accentuate poor sleep habits and negatively impact their academic performance. If students feel that they need to reengineer their routine from square one, it is important for them to know that there are resources available, but it is their job to decide that they want to make a change.

It is important for people to take a self-inventory,” Chow said. “If your sleep situation is causing daytime dysfunction, or if in a boring situation, if you fall asleep, it’s because your body is going to the way it wants to be. You should be bored and awake, not bored and asleep […] Sleep is truth.”

 

Written by: Benjamin Porter — features@theaggie.org

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