Along with posters and doorknob hangers promoting Sleep Well, UTC, in residence halls and other parts of campus, the Counseling Center has “sleep kits” that contain sleep masks, essential oils, earplugs, a sleep tracker form and other items. For now, the kits will be distributed to students affiliated with the Counseling Center who have been identified as having sleep problems.
An hour or so before going to sleep:
- Put down your phone.
- Don’t exercise.
- Don’t watch TV.
- Don’t read a newspaper.
- Don’t eat a big meal.
- Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine.
- Set the room temperature between 65-68 degrees
The student wasn’t getting enough sleep and she knew it. But if she slept, she wouldn’t have time to get all the things done that needed to get done.
And she had what she thought was a good reason.
“She said she couldn’t put ‘sleep’ on her resume,” explains Brittany Cusack, the UTC Counseling Center’s psychiatric prescriber and a nurse practitioner.
It’s a frequent explanation from students, and it starts in high school when they believe “you have to be the best and you have to do the most and that’s how you get into college,” Cusack says.
“That’s the mindset that they’re coming in here with, and it just continues through college because then it changes to: ‘Well, I have to go to college and have a 3.9 GPA to get into grad school or I have to do X, Y and Z so I can be the best and get a job.’”
The newly launched initiative—Sleep Well, UTC—hopes to alter that line of thinking in students, at least as far as sleep in concerned, and at the same time help students understand that getting enough sleep is a key to achieving those goals.
A general recommendation for optimum performance is to get about seven hours a night according to Elizabeth O’Brien, director of the Counseling Center in the Office of Student Affairs. “It’s highly attainable. Anybody really can do it.”
Educational programs scheduled
In fall semester, a survey will ask students questions about their sleep habits to provide baseline measurements about the way things are right now. In spring semester, various events and programs will be scheduled to educate students on why they should care about how much sleep they’re getting and offer advice on how to get it. Information on those programs will be forthcoming.
“Our culture values overdoing and not sleeping,” says Yasmine Key, director of University Health Services. “It is a badge of honor to not sleep. We want to change that perception.”
She added, It’s pretty much a given that college students don’t get enough sleep. There’s just too much going on, and they don’t want to feel as if they’re missing out. They also don’t want others to think they’re a boring loser because they don’t go out at night to have fun.
While many students believe sleep just gets in the way of achievement, lack of sleep can lead in the opposite direction—bad grades, bad health, bad decisions and less achievement. Studies have shown, for instance, that for every week of impaired sleep, a student’s GPA can drop 0.02 points. You also can gain weight and find yourself facing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
When students are in high school, their parents may be able to keep them on a fairly steady sleep schedule, Key says, but that can disappear when students are on their own in college.
Then there’s peer pressure. When your friends go out for the evening, you want to fit in and be one of the crowd, so out you go and a few hours of sleep is lost.
“They feel like, ‘If I don’t go, what does that say about me?’,” Key says.
As a counselor, Cusack tells some patients they should schedule at least an hour a day when they’re just relaxing with nothing on their schedule.
“I tell them, ‘You should putter; you should daydream,’” O’Brien says. “And they’re shocked.”