Students Struggle with Sleeplessness, Insomnia

Students simply laugh and shake their heads when asked if they get enough sleep. For many, the answer is no. The average bedtime for students at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va., is 1 a.m. During a CNU medical survey by Riverside Medical Center, not getting enough sleep was the second biggest concern of students.

According to Reta Cenname, the University Health and Wellness Services Coordinator, dramatic shifts in a person’s internal clock will inhibit normal sleep patterns and can lead to insomnia.

Insomnia refers to three types of sleeping problems; difficulty falling asleep, difficulty remaining asleep and awakening prematurely, said Spencer Rathus in his book “Psychology.” High levels of anxiety and tension also contribute to sleepless nights.

This makes college a natural breeding ground for insomnia as students struggle with meeting project deadlines, preparing for exams and attending lectures. Most students also work part-time or even full time jobs.

“I worked 25 hours a week while taking 21 credit hours,” said Lorrie Rubino, former CNU student. “I was lucky if I could average six hours of sleep a night. I sometimes felt like school work interfered with sleep.”

Commuting every day to and from school can also contribute to tension.

“Having a commute of at least 45 minutes to and from school make my freshman year more difficult,” said Sarah Grey, a CNU junior. “Living so far away meant getting up earlier and cutting down on my sleep to make sure I had time to get ready and make it to class on time.”

“However, I spent my second year as a resident student and that didn’t make things much better for me. Things were too distracting. Some students can handle dorm life but I like being able to get away from the campus at times,” said Grey.

A student’s lifestyle can also determine how susceptible he or she might be to insomnia.

“Only about 10 percent of the students who come to me suffer from true sleep disorders,” Anita Tieman, Associate Director of Career and Counseling said. “The rest have situational determiners as the cause of their insomnia.”

These situational determiners include socializing every night, excessive drinking, not maintaining regular sleep times, not maintaining a healthy diet and procrastinating on work assignments for classes.

“Students in this category are the hardest to help because they’re having a great time,” Tieman said.

“However, the ultimate effects of this kind of lifestyle are obvious: missing classes, falling behind with assignments, becoming irritable and being unable to focus in class.”

The problem of sleeplessness tends to be higher at the extremes of college classifications, Tieman said. Freshman are reacting to their new found freedom and environment. Graduating students are struggling with the challenge of finding jobs and beginning a new phase in their lives.

“Transitional periods in our lives are certainly the times that we seem more vulnerable to insomnia,” Tieman said.

“Preparing to graduate changed my attitude towards the way I lived my life,” Aimee Barnes, another former CNU student said. “Eventually, I became less concerned with going out and more concerned with getting my work done and getting as much rest as I could when I could.”

For students who want to tackle the problem of insomnia, there are services at CNU that can help. Cenname has an office next to Harbor Lights, and the Career and Counseling Services office has professional counselors to help students.

“The suggestions I give students include getting more exercise, taking in less caffeine and sugar products, and having a bed time ritual,” Tieman said. “Also, I stress that despite what students might think, drinking alcohol does not ensure restful sleep. The drowsiness it causes only lasts three or four hours.”

A bed time ritual is important because it is a step by step conditioning of a person’s body and mind for rest.

Students only make their problems worse when they try to force themselves to sleep.

“You can only set the stage for sleep by lying down and relaxing when you are tired. If you focus on sleep too closely, it will elude you,” said Rathus.

“I was usually in bed for seven hours, but I rarely slept straight through,” Barnes said. “I was constantly restless because I thought about everything I did that day and everything I needed to do the next day. I worried about classes, work and graduating.”

Often, students do not feel in control of their lives because of the pressures they are under. This makes it difficult to avoid the stress of sleeplessness.

“If you can’t fall asleep, don’t stay in bed,” Cenname said. “Take a walk or do something not too stimulating. The idea is to find a way to relax and not become more stressed.”

Because of its partnership with CNU, Riverside Medical Center offers several free services students can utilize. The EAP offers counseling to help people with a variety of personal issues such as insomnia. For more information…

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