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Davis, California

Monday, September 27, 2021

Especially during winter months, sleep and exercise can help keep students healthy, motivated

 Early morning classes may disrupt sleep cycles for most university students, which may have a negative effect on their learning outcomes

The typical weather of Winter Quarter—rainy weeks, bitter cold mornings and short days with little sunlight—is often enough to demotivate most Davis students during the winter months. This year brings added challenges, as students must manage the mental strain of winter while also navigating pandemic stressors, remote learning and social isolation. Though hard to do consistently, maintaining a healthy balance of sleep, exercise and self-care in your daily routine is important for taking care of your mental health—and can be especially useful for alleviating some of the dreariness of winter weather.

With midterm season in full swing, sleep can be one of the most common things students compromise while juggling deadlines and studying for tests. Whether it’s the dreaded case of having to pull an all-nighter before an exam or frequently staying up later than usual, over 70% of college students report not getting the recommended amount of sleep of 8 hours or more, often due to an overload of school and social activities. 

Yet, some of this sleep loss may be attributed to biological factors. Compared to younger children and older adults, teenagers have a different hormonal schedule and release melatonin later in the day, altering their circadian rhythm and consequently causing them to both stay up and wake up later. Though it is unclear at what age melatonin readjusts and is released earlier, late bedtimes and sleep deprivation are known to affect students through their college years and early 20s. 

Sleep loss can have both short-term and long-term consequences. On a day-to-day basis, lack of sleep correlates to an increased number of mood swings and imparied cognitive functioning, but as sleep loss accumulates over time, the effects become much more detrimental: Continuous sleep loss is clearly correlated to an increased risk for asthma, depression, coronary heart disease, cancer and a number of other chronic health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The structure of high school and college classes is not accommodating for the best sleep outcomes for students. Some required classes are only offered before 10 a.m.—with some as early as 7:30 a.m.—and professors may require attendance even though they’re remote, taking away the option for students to sleep in if they have had a late night studying or completing assignments.

Remote learning can compound sleep loss due to scheduling issues, as students are required to spend upwards of 10 hours on their laptop a day—often in the same room they sleep in. Screen time before bed can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm and make it difficult to fall asleep, and screens in the bedroom can keep individuals up and distract them from going to bed in the first place.

One habit that can help sleep—while also impacting health, mood and energy levels—is regular exercise. Exercises can vary from a 30-minute walk to a morning workout with weights to a quick bedtime yoga session. Having a housemate to workout with or a friend to virtually set goals with can motivate students to do it regularly. Though exercise is a great break from online lectures, even reading a chapter of a book or doing chores around the house between assignments can be beneficial to get away from the computer screen for a few minutes. 

Some other healthy habits students are recommended to do to improve sleep and focus levels include turning off devices 30 minutes before you go to sleep, trying not to do school work in your bed or even bedroom if possible and going to bed at the same time every night. Yet given the conditions of remote learning, not all students can adhere to these habits, especially if they live in an apartment with many other individuals and need to be in their bedroom to focus. 

Professors and faculty—who likely experience the challenges of remote learning as well—should be understanding and flexible with students surrounding course times and refrain from scheduling classes that require attendance early in the morning.

Administrators could even eliminate classes before 10 or 11 a.m. all together, as experts suggest college students’ brains do not function well before those hours. Another study illustrates that adhering college classes to guidelines that promote quality sleep would be beneficial to student learning and health.

In the meantime, students should know that it is normal and natural to let themselves sleep in when they need it and that taking breaks during long Zoom days is a necessity for remote learning and enduring the gloomy months of Winter Quarter.

Written by: The Editorial Board 


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