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Sleep and (Not or) Diet: Creating Collegiate Success

09/09/2010 06:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Meet the 21st century college student: a super-human creature, trained in multi-tasking to an ultimate level, adjusted to odd sleep schedules and sparingly regular meal times. But with the increasingly challenging demands of college, how much more can this lean, sometimes-mean, learning machine accomplish before breaking down? Well, if you wanted a straight answer, you should stop reading now. There is no correct or clear-cut answer. It will vary from person to person, from college to college, and from program to program. But regardless of person, college, or program, certain commonalities apply: things like mental well-being, favorable diets, and beneficial sleep schedules are crucial to achieving success in college.

According to a study in the Journal of American College Health, only 11 percent of college undergrads (n=191) had good quality sleep (2001). When taking this into perspective, that means that over 16 million college students do not get enough sleep on a daily basis. Be it intentional or because of disorders, this number is quite alarming.

When considering the constantly changing class schedule, and the sometimes non-existent weight and food intake management, a college student's diet isn't far from alarming either. With "all-you-can-eat" cafeterias, and late night food runs, college students are making poor choices left and right, and when all your friends are going out to eat at 1 am, who is going to miss out on this opportunity to bond and socialize?

With the recent Freshman 8 Pledge, more students are aware of the effects of sleep on performance, mood and capacities. I want to take it a step further and try to make some correlations between sleep and diet. It's a well-known fact that sleep influences diet and vice versa. Yet, some things might not seem as evident:

1. Sleep imbalances affect your body's metabolism: during sleep, your metabolic rate decreases, which means that your body is burning fewer calories. But with less sleep, your body produces more cortisol (the hormone that increases hunger). Now we know why we get the munchies when up studying late.

2. The morning after: remember the last time you woke up and felt really crappy? (And no...I'm not talking about a hangover). Try to remember if you had eaten late the night before. If the answer is yes, you may have just found the culprit. When eating at night, we get tired faster, and then we go to bed with a belly full of food. This extra strain placed on our body prevents us from getting regular/productive sleep, making us feel lethargic in the morning, decreasing productivity and alertness.

3. The wrong combination of food can keep you up for hours! The obvious perpetrator here is coffee or caffeinated drinks (sodas, tea). Anything with caffeine will keep you away from bed. The not so obvious: complex carbs (like whole grain foods pasta, potatoes etc), Atkins diet foods and even alcohol. All-protein diets have been shown to cause insomnia, while alcohol pushes the body to produce adrenaline. And while it may seem that alcohol relaxes the body, often times, it will make you wake up at night due to dehydration.

If you're the type of person that likes to hang out late at night, the next time your friends take you out to eat, order a glass of milk, or some parfait. It will go a long way on your path for adequate sleep.

For more information, please read:

Sleep and Diet

Previously published on bogdanrau.com.