Hatchet Checkup: Skimping on sleep

Senior Andrew Beazeale frequents the Gelman Starbucks in the middle of the night so often that the baristas know his order and his favorite seat along the side of the counter.

His sleeping habits – little rest, large amounts of caffeine and no choice but to procrastinate on homework because courses, jobs and extracurriculars occupy daytime hours – are common among many GW students.

The morning rush at Gelman Starbucks pales in comparison to the lines that curve out the door about 16 hours later. Late at night, the coffee shop fills with students ready to burn the midnight oil.

But this type of sleep deprivation has dangerous long- and short-term effects, including an increase in weight and decrease of concentration, said Dr. Vivek Jain.

Jain, who works for the American Board of Sleep Medicine and the Division of Sleep Medicine at the GW Hospital, said it is difficult for young people to understand how to treat their insomnia.

“They may try different therapies for it, including medications and alcohol, not recognizing that they don’t have a disease but instead a different circadian rhythm. It becomes a vicious cycle.”

Many students said they can stay awake so late because they consume caffeine and frequent the gym.

But Jain said neither caffeine nor exercise are substitutes for sleep, which is the only way to stay energized in a healthy way.

In addition to a loss of concentration, another side effect of sleep deprivation is an increase in body mass index. “The way the brain is wired is that it thinks that fatigue is equivalent to hunger, and unfortunately, hunger for the wrong, unhealthy types of food,” Jain said.

Senior Matthew Eapen can attest to late-night cravings.

“If I stay up late, I’ll definitely start ordering food. And of course, DC Snacks is the only thing open at 2 in the morning,” he said.

Many students said they sleep late on the weekends to make up for the sleep they lose Monday through Friday. This is a common habit for college students, but in the medical world, it alludes to the larger issue of “delayed sleep phase syndrome.” Those with the syndrome adapt to sleep schedules conflicting with expected sleeping norms. Then insomnia and the use of products such as medicine and alcohol to fall asleep may lead to substance abuse.

Junior Hallie Boyce said she tries to maintain healthy routines as she juggles work and school.

“Naps are key. It’s also good to take a lot of breaks when you study,” she said. “I don’t drink coffee or energy drinks, though. They’re not good for you!”

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