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Ankita Nair: New students need to be taught the importance of sleep at orientation

(Noelle Cho, Daily Bruin)

By Ankita Nair

Aug. 13, 2017 11:35 p.m.

For the nearly 9,000 incoming first-year and transfer students preparing to matriculate at UCLA, getting a good night’s sleep is probably the last thing on their minds.

High school students are long accustomed to sacrificing sleep in order to maintain high academic standing and extracurricular involvement. But students who continue to practice the same habits in college risk endangering their long-term academic performance and personal health.

According to a study conducted by University of Alabama, 60 percent of college students get insufficient amounts of sleep, less than the amount recommended by the National Sleep Foundation for young adults, which is seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Furthermore, studies done by Harvard University show that sleep deprivation can cause poor memory, impair judgement and affect students’ abilities to learn and retain information.

This issue has not been lost on UCLA, though. The university’s Healthy Campus Initiative runs the Sleep Well Campaign, which is focused on educating students about the importance of sleep. Besides creating an informational website and a YouTube video series, the organization has also hosted sleep events including a “sleep week” in 2015 and a sleep celebration in 2016 featuring Arianna Huffington.

Unfortunately, not enough students know about these resources. For reference, the Healthy Campus Initiative videos have been viewed fewer than 400 times each. To remedy this, UCLA should introduce a sleep education program for incoming students during New Student Orientation to promote the Sleep Well Campaign and provide strategies for balancing their commitments and their health in college.

New Student Orientation hosts mandatory presentations on sexual assault and consent, academic integrity, student health and wellness, student safety and True Bruin standards. These information sessions are meant to educate students on topics that will help them better adjust to college, but sleep seems to be left out of the equation.

This omission has cost students dearly. After all, students run the risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, and also may face earlier mortality by continuing to stay up late into the night.

Many UCLA students and alumni said they spent their first quarters at UCLA sleep-deprived, in part because they didn’t know how to balance college life with sleep – something New Student Orientation could help with.

For example, Michael Day Schwartz, a second-year electrical engineering and math student, said he often stayed up until 4 a.m. to get his work done.

“When you make a decision to overload yourself, and you don’t have the resources to deal with the problem, it’s going to take a load on your sleep,” Schwartz said.

Likewise, Bethlehem Teshome, a recent graduate, said she struggled to get enough sleep her first two years of college and often pulled all-nighters to finish her assignments. She said her erratic sleep schedule was caused mainly by stress related to her family and school. After realizing her lifestyle was taking a physical toll on her, she made sleep a priority her last two years by changing her schedule and making sure to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

Both Schwartz and Teshome point out that students often don’t prioritize sleep until they realize how sleep deprivation negatively affects their personal health and state of mind. Informing new students of the long-term health effects and teaching them coping mechanisms before they start UCLA could help prevent them from suffering the harsh consequences of lack of sleep in their first few quarters.

Dr. Anoop Karippot, M.D., a sleep physician and president-elect of the California Sleep Society, also agrees UCLA should better promote efforts to educate students about sleep coping strategies. Besides encouraging students to make changes to their busy schedules to make room for sleep, Karippot recommends students try and maintain consistent sleep schedules despite the erratic college lifestyle.

One way UCLA could help educate incoming students to make these changes would be to allow current students, sleep physicians and Healthy Campus Initiative officials to share their personal experiences and expertise on the importance of sleep during orientation. These speakers could discuss health effects and coping strategies, as well as promote the Sleep Well Campaign by sharing the vast amount of sleep resources available to students on campus like the UCLA Nap Map and free hammock rentals offered at Ackerman Union.

Of course, many students already know sleep deprivation is detrimental yet still choose to sacrifice sleep for academics or social activities. Both Schwartz and Teshome said they were aware of the health implications when they chose to put their other commitments over sleep.

Still, a comprehensive overview of sleep deprivation could really go a long way in helping students develop better habits before they start at UCLA. Moreover, better promotion of existing campus sleep programs can help students better utilize sleep-related resources to improve their UCLA experience – and their health.

Academics and social experiences are undeniably important aspects of the college experience. But when it comes to lifelong personal health, no student should ever sacrifice their future quality of life in college by not getting enough sleep at night.

After all, college is meant to help students build better lives, not shorten them.

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Ankita Nair | Opinion columnist
Nair is an Opinion columnist.
Nair is an Opinion columnist.
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