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How to Prevent
Sleep Deprivation During Finals Week

Caffeine, Late Night Studying and Stress
Likely to Keep Students Tossing and Turning

December 3, 2008

By Christine Clark

UC San Diego students will take final exams the week of Dec. 8 and the cramming, testing jitters and coffee consumption will lead to sleep deprivation (and lower test scores) for many of the university’s 28,500 students.

Sleep deprivation is one of the major health problems affecting students and is the second leading health impediment to academic success. Erratic schedules, caffeine consumption and anxiety all cause students to suffer from insomnia during finals week when sleep deprivation spikes among students, especially freshmen.

“During finals week nervous students are pulling all nighters and drinking caffeine,” said Jerry Phelps, director of the UC San Diego Wellness Center. “All of these factors are the perfect prescription for insomnia.”

A recent study of UC San Diego students by the College Health Association Assessment found that only 23 percent reported getting eight hours of sleep per night and 25 percent reported that sleep deprivation affected their academic achievements.

Seniors also are susceptible to sleep deprivation as they approach graduation, Phelps said. “They have been in school their whole life,” he said. “Typically during winter quarter, their anxiety increases and this year’s senior class is predicted to be especially nervous about entering the job market during this economic downturn.”

UC San Diego’s Wellness Center offers students a variety of solutions to combat sleep deprivation, including a relaxing podcast and tips, such as:

Avoid caffeine: Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, diet drugs and especially in energy drinks. 

Avoid alcohol: Many students don’t know that while alcohol causes drowsiness, it contributes to insomnia.  Alcohol disrupts normal sleep patterns, increasing fatigue the next day. While alcohol makes a person drowsy, it often increases wakefulness during the second half of sleep, causing restlessness and fitful sleep.

Use your bed for sleeping: Students should study in a quiet place, but not in bed. Students often stay up reading, but they’ll begin to associate their beds with studying, which won’t help them relax at night.

Take a nap: Twenty-minute naps help to catch up on sleep, boost alertness and physical stamina.

Set a consistent bedtime and wake time: Although shifting class schedules and student activities at night can interfere with sleep patterns, students should to try to go to bed at a set time each night and get up at the same time each morning. “Sleeping in” on weekends also makes it harder to wake up early on Monday morning because it resets your sleep cycles for a later awakening.  

Exercise regularly (but not immediately before bed): Try to exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day. Daily exercise often helps people sleep, although a workout soon before bedtime may interfere with sleep. For maximum benefit, exercise five to six hours before going to bed.

Don’t pull an all-nighter: Studies show that students remember detailed course material better the next day if they get a good night's sleep rather than stay up all night trying to “cram” more information into their already bursting brains.

Don’t stress: A lot of students tend to have a perfectionist attitude but they should prioritize and have realistic expectations. Anxiety leads to insomnia and students get the highest scores when they’re not tired or hungry. Students need to take care of their body mind and spirit to be at their best.

And finally, students should see a doctor if their sleeping problems continue. “UC San Diego’s Student Health Services can treat student with aliments, such as sleep apnea throughout the year,” Phelps said. “Sleep should be at to top of a student’s need list, not want.”

Top 10: Survival Strategies for Finals & the Holidays
By Karla Materna of UC San Diego’s Psychological and Counseling Services

1. Plan Your Schedule and Set Some Limits.
Identify your priorities and put them on your schedule.
Learn to say no.

2. Schedule Time for Self-Care!
Make certain you set aside some time for exercise, sleep and pleasant activities.

3. Eat Well
Moderation is the key.
As much as possible eat while seated at a table.

4. Monitor Caffeine
Don’t drink too much (or you’ll feel anxious, restless and have poor sleep).

5. Stay in the Present!
Do not focus on the past or future.
Be here now.

6. Reach Out For Support and Companionship

7. Be Nice To Others.
Give compliments and smile. Avoid negative or rude people.
Do something for someone else.

8. Set Reasonable Expectations.
Prepare for the good and not so good.
Be realistic.
Forget about perfection.

9. Acknowledge Your Feelings.

10. Take a breather.


Media Contact: Christine Clark, 858-534-7618

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