Clocking your ZZZ’s

Do you suffer from daytime drowsiness or insomnia? Your internal clock may be the culprit. 

College students have notoriously bad sleep schedules. Most of us stay up late on weekdays and manage only a few measly hours of shuteye before those dreaded morning classes. We stay up even later on the weekends, and then remain in bed until noon to make up for our chronic sleep deprivation. Just because most college students function on these schedules doesn’t mean they’re healthy.

Your circadian rhythm, better known as your internal clock, controls your body’s sleep patterns. According to Les A. Gellis, a visiting assistant professor of psychology at Syracuse University who researches sleep, exposure to light makes your internal clock function on a 24-hour cycle controlled by the hormone melatonin. This means that your body is trained to wake up in the morning, become alert upon recognition of light, maintain alertness during the day, and feel sleepy when the lights go off at night. When people stay up late, they expose themselves to light and the body begins to question when it should sleep and when it should be awake. This messes up melatonin production, making the internal clock function irregularly.

“We live in a nine-to-five world where it’s very important to be up during the day,” says Gellis. “If your internal clock is shifted, you will have a hard time getting up in the morning and going to morning classes.” People with disrupted internal clock cycles often feel sleepy throughout the day and get a burst of energy at night, which makes the body unable to fall and stay asleep. As a result, these people have difficulty functioning during the day and may turn to caffeine, napping, or medication to prevent drowsiness. But these temporary solutions aren’t effective ways to combat the issue, since naps and caffeine can disturb your sleep schedule further, says Gellis.

If your internal clock is not “set” right, here are some tips to fix the problem:

  •  Nearly all college students rely on power naps after late night study – or party–sessions. But excessive napping during the day will only prevent you from sleeping later. Sometimes you need to tolerate a bit of drowsiness during the day to sleep better at night.
  •  Only drink caffeine in the morning and early afternoon, since the stimulant may keep you awake.
  •  Don’t get caught up in a lifestyle that forces you to have irregular sleeping habits.
  • This might mean turning down the night shift at work or setting a bedtime before midnight.

After properly setting your body’s internal clock, you’ll feel more energized, rejuvenated, and ready to take on the world.

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