Ohio State researchers are learning more about how to maximize sleep for the often sleep-deprived. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

A consistent sleep cycle can be one of the most difficult habits to develop, especially for college students, and Ohio State researchers are learning more about how to maximize sleep for the often sleep-deprived.

Sleep can often lessen as a priority among students as they grapple with balancing work, school and social commitments. Lawrence Chan, Ohio State assistant clinical professor of sleep medicine, explained the imperativeness of sleep pertaining to physical and mental health in college.

“The full role of what it does is not completely understood, but it certainly appears that we require or function at our best between seven and nine hours of sleep,” Chan said.

When students only get a few hours of rest, it can result in multiple forms of physical and mental impairment, he said.

“In sleep deprivation, our memory is impaired,” Chan said. “Our cognitive abilities are impaired. Our energy is impaired. Most major systems are affected by sleep deprivation.”

Chan said sleep is crucial especially during college due to the multiple areas of academics that must be balanced.

“Since the primary goal of college is a cognitive thing where we are trying to learn, be administrative in new subject areas and integrate a lot of new information, we know that sleep plays such a high role in terms of maintaining your ability to do all those things,” Chan said.

Chan’s best recommendation is for students to create and stick to a regular sleep schedule. Chan said maintaining a semiregular sleep schedule is vital, and that it is important to have “clear alignments of our circadian rhythm with our active sleep cycle.”

Chan said creating a routine schedule includes reserving your sleeping environment strictly for sleep. He said abstaining from things such as reading or watching movies in bed is the “ultimate challenge” for students, but an important guideline to follow.

He said the state of relaxation your mind and body are in prior to sleep can be drastically altered by the use of technology.

“Nowadays we talk about blue light exposure, which is exposure to screens such as phones [and] televisions, and those can interfere with our bodies’ natural process of releasing melatonin, which promotes sleep,” Chan said.

Danielle Livelsberger, sleep lab manager at the Wexner Medical Center explained how the adjustment of screen time before bed and establishing a sleep routine are two crucial factors. She said screens have to be turned off before bed, and that the more relaxed someone is, the higher quality sleep they will receive.

While Livelsberger emphasized that developing healthy sleeping habits are essential, she also stressed that it takes time and practice.

“It’s not something you have to change overnight,” she said. “But if you start turning the TV off earlier, giving yourself maybe 30 minutes of wind-down time before bed and just start to initiate those good healthy habits, it makes it not so overwhelming, and they do make a huge difference.”