By Claire Benoist, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor
College students notoriously don’t get enough sleep. Juggling classes, assignments, studying, and other responsibilities, can make it hard to find the time. College students get an average of 6-6.9 hours of sleep, but according to the sleep foundation, young adults ages 18-25 need between 7-9 hours of sleep. Most people have heard that getting adequate sleep improves mood and focus, allows our body to go through repair cycles and boosts immune function. It also allows us to process information and store memories. But did you know that sleep can affect nutrition too?
One of the many things our bodies do while we sleep is regulate hormone levels, including ghrelin and leptin, commonly known as the hunger hormones. Ghrelin stimulates hunger and leptin triggers the feeling of fullness. Research shows that decreased sleeping times are associated with higher ghrelin levels and lower leptin levels in the blood. This imbalance in hormones causes increased appetite, especially for high calorie foods, and tends to make people overeat during meals. And when cravings aren’t satisfied, the hangry sets in. So, what can we do to avoid this?
Here are a few tips:
1. Make sleep a priority.
Did anybody else dread the words “time for bed” when they were younger or was that just me? One of the perks of being an adult is not having anyone tell you when it’s time to go to bed, am I right? But unfortunately, as busy college students, we tend to look at sleep as something we do only once we get everything else done and we don’t prioritize it as much as we should. Our bodies like to have consistency in our sleep-wake cycle so try to go to bed within the same hour every night.
2. Make your bed a sleep only zone.
Beds are for sleeping, desks are for studying. Especially with remote learning, it’s tempting to attend classes and do your studying in your bed, but when you use your bed only for sleeping, your brain and body will associate getting into bed with going to sleep.
3. Block out noises and lights.
Make your room a dark and quiet sleep oasis by blocking out lights that are coming through your door, windows or any electronics around your room. Eye masks can help to do this and can also ensure that you wake up when you are ready to, not just when the sun tells you to. Noises can also wake you up before it’s time. A white noise machine or some ear plugs can help to drown out noises and let you get the sleep you need.
4. Exercise daily.
Exercise causes certain biological processes in the body that have been linked with better sleep quality and can help to relieve stress. This can be any exercise and doesn’t have to be any specified amount of time. A morning run through the arboretum, an afternoon at-home body weight HIIT workout video, an evening yoga flow, whatever feels good to you.
5. Avoid heavy meals, caffeine and sugar in the evening.
This is a nutrition article after all, and as much as quality sleep affects our nutrition, nutrition can also affect how well we sleep. Heavy meals can feel uncomfortable in your stomach when laying down. Keep your night-time snacking light in order to avoid the discomfort. Eating large amounts of sugar before bed can also affect how easily you fall asleep. Sugar initially causes blood sugar levels to spike, causing an energy burst. This may cause you to toss and turn as you are trying to fall asleep. A while later, blood sugar levels begin to drop as insulin helps sugar enter your cells, letting you finally fall asleep. However, soon the sugar crash effect caused by the dramatic drop of blood sugar will trigger a stress response which will likely cause you to wake up again. To avoid this, keep sweet late-night snacks balanced with fiber and/or protein which stabilize the absorption of sugar into the blood. And of course, I have to address caffeine, the life blood of college students. Caffeine is a stimulant that is found in coffee, most teas, and soda that can stay active in our bodies for as long as 5-6 hours. To avoid having it affect your sleep, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends not consuming caffeine within 6 hours of your intended bedtime.
6. Avoid electronics 30-60 minutes before bed.
Am I seriously suggesting to Gen Z-ers that they shouldn’t be using electronics before bed? No Netflix? No TikTok? Yes, I realize that’s a lot to ask but it’s much too easy to keep scrolling and clicking “next episode” and not see the hours go by. Scrolling through Instagram, watching your favorite show on Netflix, or even reading though your BIS 2B notes causes mental stimulation which is the opposite of what you want before bed. The blue light emission from electronic devices can also disrupt the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. So, what can you do instead?
I’m glad you asked! Here are some ideas of non-electronic things you can do to get ready for bed:
1. Read a book. I’m not talking about school-assigned reading here. This should be a book you enjoy reading that relaxes you.
2. Prepare for tomorrow. Write down the things that are on your mind that you need to do tomorrow and put it away. This will help clear your mind and keep tomorrow’s responsibilities from keeping you awake tonight.
3. Journal. This practice has gained popularity in recent years. Write down anything important that happened that day, how you feel, what your goals are for the next day, or just whatever thoughts come to mind.
4. Pamper yourself. Paint your nails. Do a facemask. Light some candles. Take some time to do whatever makes you feel good.
5. Yoga/Meditate. There are some great resources for guided meditations and calming yoga flows online. Find one you like, dim the lights and let yourself fully relax.
Sweet dreams, Aggies!