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Q and A with a Sleep Expert

March 10, 2023

Balancing all of the demands of university with extracurricular activities and a social life can be challenging. When we add to that any family or work commitments, it feels like there are not enough hours in the day! With so many things competing for our time and energy, sometimes the only way to get it all done is to sacrifice some sleep or pull an all-nighter. While that one-time late night might not feel like it is having too much of an impact on your health, this consistent sleep deprivation can have serious health effects. 

dr-efrosini-papaconstantinou.pngAs young adults, the recommended sleep quality is 7-9 hours a night. Any less than this can begin to compromise our health and well-being. Unfortunately, most university students need to prioritize sleep. 

We sat down with Dr. Efrosini Papaconstantinou, our Ontario Tech sleep expert, to dive deeper into sleep and how to get better zzzs. Dr. Papaconstantinou is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences. Her research interests include the evaluation of nursing interventions aimed at improving sleep and health outcomes in children, youth and their families.

What are some benefits of getting a good night's sleep?

A: Sleep has many benefits; in many ways, it needs to be more recognized and valued. Many people think it is overrated, but that's not the case. There is so much that happens while we are fast asleep, especially as we get into those deeper stages of sleep. Deep sleep helps recover from injury, growth and development, and more. On the flip side, when we don't get enough sleep, we see slower reaction times and a tendency toward accidents, and our tolerance to stress and frustration is significantly lowered.

What activities or routines can we do before bed to help us sleep better?

A: Follow basic sleep hygiene rules, including having the same bedtime and wake time every day, even on weekends, which helps regulate our circadian rhythms. It's also essential to ensure that you are exposing yourself to natural light - so getting outside during the day, even for 10 minutes, is necessary. Relaxing activities like yoga, gentle stretching, meditation and light reading can also be helpful. 

What activities or routines should we avoid before bed to help us sleep better?

A: We should reduce our exposure to blue light from our laptops, TVs, smartphones and other devices. In addition, avoid vigorous exercise too close to bedtime, and try not to eat heavy meals or drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol too late in the day. 

What are your thoughts about napping? 

A: Naps have been shown to significantly benefit things like creativity and offset some of that sleepiness. The problem is that when your alarm goes off, you want to hit the snooze button and keep going until you have a good long nap. Unfortunately, that will leave you feeling groggy and likely make it much more difficult to sleep at night. Strategic napping can be beneficial as long as you don't get into those deeper stages of sleep. You should set your alarm for 30 minutes and not sleep any more than that.
By Ursula Powell and Laura Cleland