College Courses Are Making Sleep Education Accessible

Young Man Yawning tired while Studying at Night
Young Man Yawning tired while Studying at Night

We are living in an age of vast technological improvement, and this growth has been predicted many times over to lead to the downfall of the human race. While that hasn't exactly been the case, there have in fact been some negative consequences to our increasingly Jetson-esque world.

We all already know about modern technology's ability to distract, whether it be in class or the night before a final exam. But what many of us college students are just beginning to realize is its potential to disrupt our sleep, and lord knows we can't afford any less sleep than we're already getting. But before we bemoan the times we live in, we need to realize that this technological growth, as distracting as it can be on a personal level, is also helping researchers and scientists understand sleep better than ever before.

The work is being done on a large scale, like at the National Sleep Foundation or the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, but a growing understanding of sleep is being promoted at areas all over the country. At the University of Missouri, students are offered a course that they can take from the most appropriate place possible: their own beds.

Sleep and Sleep Disorders, an online class taught by Dennis Miller, an Associate Professor at the University of Missouri School of Psychological Sciences, focuses on teaching students the ins and outs of sleep deprivation.

"The goal of the class is to get a basic overview of what happens when we sleep, why it's important and some of the common sleep disorders that people might experience," Miller said. The course runs for nine months, so even though no formal classroom is used, it's still an immersive experience.

"We tend to think of sleep as just being unconscious - 8 hours to 10 hours a night we are unconscious - but sleep is really us existing in a different form of consciousness," Miller said. "If we do certain things like take drugs that disrupt the brain's activity, what we'll find is we're not at our best the next day."

College students often use their weekends to catch up on sleep, but many of them don't know that their alcohol and drug use inhibits their sleep's effectiveness, even if they sleep in until late in the afternoon. In fact, having drastically different sleep habits on the weekends is potentially harmful to a person's sleep schedule during the week, as sleeping in late or relying on naps creates a harmful reliance on midday rest. These seemingly innocuous habits can lead students down a slippery slope.

"Regardless of how many hours of sleep you get, low quality sleep will make you feel groggy and drowsy, and long term that can contribute to psychological disorders like depression and anxiety," Miller said.

When students understand their sleep patterns and recognize when it's time to make a change in their habits, they are taking a big step toward better overall health. Miller recommends maintaining a regular schedule. "It can be hard with classes, work and other social activities, but you should try to go to sleep around the same time every night and get up at the same time each morning." This might mean foregoing the temptation to sleep in on days that start late, because in the long run your body's ability to adjust will prize the quality of your sleep over the amount.

Sleep and Sleep Disorders is just one class at one university, and the country is rapidly making improvements in access to sleep education. If your university offers a class like this one, online or not, you might want at least consider it for the benefit of your physical and mental health.