As boring as it may sound, sleep is one of the cornerstones of our well-being – also for students. In the chaos of student life, you may forget this when exams are closing in and your social life is often busy.
However, sleep has a strong influence on both the regulation of stress and your mood. Occasional short nights do not yet give rise to longer-term problems, but when they become chronic, the consequences can be diverse.
“Chronic sleep deprivation creates an increasing feeling of fatigue and affects attention and executive functions. The brain is active also at night when it builds neural networks and memory material. In other words, sleep enables the memory to work correctly in a long run,” says Anu-Katriina Pesonen, sleep researcher and professor.
Late sleep schedule is a problem for young adults
The need for sleep is unique to each person: some can manage with seven hours of sleep, while others need more than eight hours of sleep per night. The need for sleep may also vary depending on the situation and season.
“The best indicator of your need for sleep is the difficulty of waking up and tiredness during the day. At best, people wake up without an alarm clock when they have had enough sleep,” says Pesonen.
The naturally late sleep schedule of adolescence begins to move towards an earlier hour at the age of 22 to 24. The later the schedule, the more likely it is to sleep too little.
“It is believed that about half of young people are suffering from some sort of problem with sleep. A typical problem is a delayed sleep cycle, which means a very late sleep schedule, in which case you fall asleep only in the morning hours. Another common problem is insomnia,” says Pesonen.
Add a light therapy lamp to your wish list
If the sleep schedule is very late, but the student falls asleep easily and remains asleep afterwards, the problem points to a delayed sleep cycle. Insomnia, on the other hand, can mean a difficulty in falling asleep, anxiety related to falling asleep, difficulty in staying asleep, and waking up at night.
“From the perspective of studies, both cause day-time fatigue and reduced functional capacity,” tells Pesonen.
In stressful situations, sleep usually becomes shorter and lighter. Right there the need for refreshing deep sleep is the direst. You can try to reach deep sleep, for example, by trying to maintain a regular sleep schedule. However, you should also show mercy to yourself, as maintaining a regular sleep schedule is often difficult.
“Light therapy in the morning synchronises your internal clock and its benefits can be seen all day long. So, it's a good idea to get one or ask for one for Christmas. It would be wonderful if student libraries had borrowable light therapy lamps,” Pesonen suggests.