Are You Sleep Deprived?

As students, we don’t have your typical 9 AM – 5 PM workday. It’s actually more like the reverse: 5 AM – 9 PM. After a full day’s worth of lectures, we are expected to go home and review each lecture for 2-3 hours and also study for upcoming tests. Just because our day seems incredibly busy and we wish we had more free time to decompress does not necessarily mean we are sleep deprived.

I’ve learned that classmates love to boast about how much sleep they did not get. I think I hear about “staying up all night” at least once per day. As almost doctors, we are definitely smart enough to know that chronic sleep deprivation leads to an increased risk for a host of diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression.

So, how can you tell? Are you dozing off during lecture because you find the material boring, or because you need more sleep? According to the American Sleep Association, you will start to notice the following signs:

  • You can’t stop snacking or eating.
  • You noticed a change in your weight – either gain or loss.
  • You’re irritable and cranky.
  • You can’t remember anything.
  • You can’t control your motor skills.
  • You can’t make decisions.

If you’ve determined that you do, in fact, need more sleep the next step is to improve your sleep hygiene habits.

One thing you can do to improve your sleeping habits is maintain a regular schedule. Going to bed and waking up at around the same time will help to normalize a routine.

When it’s time for sleep, go to your bed. Try not to hang out in bed all day and hope to fall asleep at night. Begin to create positive associations with your bed as a place where you sleep, instead of stay awake and study.

Limit caffeine (including soda and tea) a few hours before bedtime. When ingested out of your normal routine, caffeine will disrupt your circadian rhythm.

Exercise helps to promote continuous sleep, especially before lunchtime. For me, I know I can’t make it to the gym until the evening. Although some recommend not working out before bedtime (too many endorphins!), I find that it works OK for me and I am able to fall asleep.

Create a bedtime routine that signals your mind that it is time to sleep. Some suggestions include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a few minutes before bedtime (instead of scrolling through your phone until you’re eyes get tired), meditating or just closing your eyes and taking deep breaths.

If you’re such a bookworm, or if you’re surrounded by books while studying, check out this infographic about how reading before bed helps you sleep. 

If you’re not sold on the importance of sleep, The Health Scout details why it is essential for surviving medical school. 

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Sonal Kumar

Sonal Kumar is passionate about combining science and storytelling. She has vast experiences outside of healthcare including marketing and advertising, print and broadcast journalism, including TV/radio production. Sonal is an alumna of Columbia University. She tweets @sonalkumar2011.