At the start of the semester, students are flooded with back-to-school activities organised by their faculties and halls, supper outings with friends and mahjong or drinking sessions that last into the wee hours of the night. And as the semester draws to a close, students often burn the midnight oil to prepare for their examinations.
Not surprisingly, students may compromise on their sleeping hours as they prioritise their school activities.
Based on a study conducted by the Duke-NUS Medical School last year, only about 20 per cent of university students in Singapore achieve the recommended amount of seven to nine hours of sleep daily.
However, a lack of sleep is detrimental to one’s health and the consequences will follow through into the later years of one’s life. Harvard Medical School experts have reported that people who get less than five hours of sleep a day are 15 per cent more likely to die than their peers, regardless of their age.
Sleep less, suffer more
A study conducted by the University of Michigan’s neurology department in 2014 revealed that sleep-deprived students are more likely to perform poorer academically. Not only do they suffer from mental exhaustion, but their attention span and information retention ability are affected negatively as well. In the later years of their lives, they are also more susceptible to health problems such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.
“Sleep plays a major role in memory consolidation and learning. If you don’t sleep (after learning new information during the day), it is like building a sandcastle and having the tide take it out,” said Professor Michael Chee, Director of Duke-NUS Medical School’s Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience.
A survey conducted by a group of NTU students between October and November last year on 209 NTU students found that a majority of their respondents aged 18 to 24 years old did not get enough sleep. This was due to various reasons, including the use of electronic gadgets close to bedtime, unconducive sleep environments, having to meet the demands of a heavy workload, and poor dietary habits.
The survey, which was conducted by students from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, also found that 89.3 per cent of their respondents used electronic devices in bed, with 35.4 per cent indicating usage for more than an hour.
Technology usage has been identified to greatly disrupt sleep. According to Prof Chee, the use of devices such as mobile phones causes one’s mind to become active, as one gets caught up with the activity on social media.
“Even after you have turned off your e-device, you might be thinking about messages that were exchanged earlier,” said Prof Chee.
This leads to an interference with the winding down process, which refers to the amount of time one takes to fall asleep. The winding down process is lengthened due to the use of electronic devices, leading to shorter sleeping hours.
Ways to maximise sleep
To maximise sleep, it would be best if one can eliminate device usage for an hour before bedtime. However, if that is not possible, sleep quality can still be improved by activating the blue light filter on one’s devices.
Exposure to blue light emitted from electronic screens has been scientifically proven to disrupt the body’s ability to produce melatonin, the hormone produced by the body to help one fall asleep. Thus, minimising the amount of blue light will help one fall asleep with more ease.
A conducive sleeping environment is also needed for restful sleep. Bedrooms should be kept cool and free from any noise or light. This will calm the body and ease the mind into sleep. Additions such as a blackout curtain, sleeping eye mask, ear plugs and humidifiers can promote better sleep and overall well-being too.
Understanding the body’s sleep cycle is also crucial in improving the quality of sleep.
According to American sleep specialist Michael J. Breus, who is a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the average person has five sleep cycles per night. Each sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes, adding up to about seven and a half hours of sleep daily.
Even if one is unable to get the full seven and a half hours of sleep, sleep quality can still be maximised by taking sleep cycles into consideration. For example, bedtime can be scheduled so that one wakes up at the end of a 90-minute cycle, which is when the body is in a lighter state of sleep. This allows one to feel refreshed upon waking up in the morning.
Lastly, going to bed and waking up at the same time throughout the week also helps the body regulate its sleeping hours. This allows the body one hour to prepare for waking, which reduces early-morning grogginess.
While it may be a challenge to get long hours of sleep everyday, knowing how to make the most out of one’s sleeping hours is key to better overall health and well-being.
As part of their Final Year Project, four final-year students from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information started a health campaign in December last year, Get 8nough Sleep. It aims to increase awareness of the importance of healthy sleep among university students in Singapore.
“Many of our friends already know that they should sleep between seven to nine hours a day, but are struggling to do so,” said Goo Yea Shin, 24, co-founder of the campaign. “Realising how sleep-deprived they are and without much help (for them), we decided to create Get 8nough Sleep to provide specific solutions that address the needs and lifestyle of university students in Singapore.”
To date, the campaign’s initiatives have engaged over a thousand university students in Singapore. These include on-campus roadshows featuring personalised sleep consultations with experts, games for students to help them examine their sleep behaviour, as well as providing informational material and sleeping aids such as eye masks and neck pillows. The campaign has also held three experiential workshops on time management, relaxation techniques and yoga.
“Usually I sleep an average of about five to six hours on normal school days but when it’s about two weeks before finals, my day becomes night and night becomes day. I’ll study till 7am and wake up at about 12pm, continue to study, and the cycle repeats.” — Vanessa Teo, 21, School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences
“Typically I get about four to five hours of sleep every night. I go to bed at 3am and wake up at 7am for breakfast. Sometimes, I’ll go back to sleep after that and wake up at lunchtime.” — Darryl Tan, 22, School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering
“To juggle all my commitments, the only thing I can sacrifice is my sleep. I clock an average of about three to four hours of sleep per night, with some nights of hibernation when I have no school and some sleepless nights. I usually allow myself to fall asleep only around 5am, then wake up at 8am to rush for class.” — Joey Chan, 21, School of Art, Design and Media
“I normally go to sleep at around 2am and wake up at 9am. Though I get about six to seven hours of sleep daily, I still find myself feeling tired in the mornings,” — Nadhira Putri, 20, School of Humanities