Sleepless at SPC: Lack of rest impacts performance

Story by Marley McKay/COMM 2311
Photo Illustrations by COMM 1316 students

You find yourself yawning in class. You can’t concentrate or remember what your professor just said. Sound familiar? It could be you’re stuck in a boring class. But it could also be something much worse: sleep deprivation or sleep deficiency.

According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep deprivation is getting less sleep than your body needs. The NIH explains sleep deficiency is even broader and it includes not only sleep deprivation, but sleeping at the wrong time day or not sleeping well.

“Nearly 40% of adults report falling asleep during the day,” the NIH reports, “without meaning to at least once a month. Also, an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have chronic, or ongoing, sleep disorders.”

And it’s easy to understand why students may struggle with the issue of getting enough sleep. But whether they lose sleep due to work, completing school work, or simply paying too much attention to their phones, the results can be the same.

The NIH reports sleep deficiency might cause a person to have trouble learning, focusing, and reacting. It can make a person feel frustrated, cranky, or worried in social situations. Even worse, according to the NIH, sleep deficiency is linked to chronic health problems such as heart disease, obesity, and depression. It’s also linked, according to the NIH, to a higher chance of injury in adults, teens, and children.

Those symptoms might sound bad enough for the average college student.  But for student athletes, they might sound even worse.

Photo by Emery Mask

Dee Dee Ninemire, the South Plains College Fitness Center director, says she sees signs of sleepy athletes a lot.

“A lot of times they are lethargic,” she says. “They lack energy. They may be falling asleep in class. Sometimes they are irritable because it creates stress. You know, it kinda has a ripple effect.”

Lina Nopal, a student at Texas Tech, says she tries to work out every day. When she hasn’t gotten enough sleep, she will end up working out less or skipping it all together due to the lack of energy.

According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep is “essential” for the overall health and wellbeing of athletes and non-athletes. But, it reports, “Both increased quantity and quality of sleep helps athletes improve performance in many areas related to the demands of the sport.”

The Sleep Foundation says research proves inadequate sleep can cause problems in specific sports.  For instance, it can cause “inhibited ability”, and, in one study group of sleep deprived male athletes, it resulted in a loss of total sprint times. “Decreased Accuracy” relates to female tennis players who suffered from decreased serve accuracy.   Another study showed “quicker exhaustion” happened to male runners and volleyball players. 

  So how much sleep is enough? According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society, in a 2015 report published in “The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine”, the average amount of sleep for adults 18 and over is around seven or more hours each night for the best benefits.

Student Lina Nopal reports she doesn’t get nearly that amount. “In a single night,” she says, “I get about three hours of sleep, from 4 or 5 to 7 a.m., because I have to be in class by 8 in the morning, Monday through Thursday. So, in a school week, four days, I get less than 16 hours.”

So, what’s the best way to catch more Zs?

“Usually, a good nap can help if I don’t have enough energy to get through the day,” says SPC student Jaden Antu.

And experts agree. According to an article called “Napping: Benefits and Tips”, which appears on the Sleep Foundation’s website, a 20- minute nap is about the right amount of time to become refreshed.

“Brief naps,” the article explains, “can be restorative and reduce fatigue during the day. After a night of insufficient sleep, a nap may counteract daytime drowsiness.”

Post High School coach Rebecca Taylor says the athletes at her school who take naps on bus rides to competitions usually have more energy than the ones who sit there on the bus.

“When we go for long trips more than 30 or 45 minutes away,” Taylor says, “we want our athletes to take a nap.”

Taylor offers one reason why students may be lacking in sleep: technology use. “When you are trying to go to sleep at night,” she says, “and you have your phone right in front of your face, the light in your face just clicks something in your head. And it’s like, ‘hey, we are supposed to be awake’. You put your phone down earlier, you can fall asleep earlier.”

Ninemire offers a suggestion for how to fall asleep: routine. “It’s also really important for people to have a regular sleep routine,” she says. “They need to try to make themselves go to bed at a certain time and get up at a certain time every day.”

And again, experts agree. The Sleep Foundation’s website lists five “sleep hygiene” tips for athletes.  These include:

• Creating an appropriate sleep environment that is dark, cool, and has little noise.

• Avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bedtime.

• Staying away from electronics in the hours before bedtime.

• Having a wind-down routine to help you relax.

Those suggestions may be worth trying if you are an athlete.  Or even if you’re not. 

What do you have to lose?  Hopefully not more sleep.

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