“Human survival”

When we hear those words, oxygen, food and water usually come to mind. We don’t always think of sleep as a necessity to survive, but it is incredibly important for continued survival.

Sleep is the most efficient way for the body to release the stress it accumulates during the day. Sleeping patterns are important to keep track of because they affect our health and how we perform every day.

People consider “stress” as a small threat; in reality, it is one of the main causes of health issues. Stress damages brain cells and causes hormones imbalances, thus affecting sleep patterns and reducing the amount of deep sleep each hour.

“Stress has a number of adverse effects on health,” says Mary McNaughton-Cassill, Ph.D., associate psychology professor at UTSA. She explains that in stressful situations, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode. This action requires a lot of energy from the body, resulting in the body shutting down non-essential functions like the immune system and digestion while the threat is still in play.

“Additionally, when people are stressed they may make poor health choices, such as smoking, drinking, over-eating and not exercising, which can all compromise health,” states McNaughton-Cassill.

It is recommended for all adults to get seven to nine hours of sleep in order to feel well-rested and to have a relaxed circadian clock. According to research published by Psychology Today, the circadian clock differs between women and men.

An average circadian clock cycle starts over every time an individual wakes up and ends when an individual wakes from sleep the next day. Men’s circadian clocks are set to a later hour than women’s, making women more likely to fall asleep earlier and wake up earlier than men. As a result, women tend to have more energy in the morning than men.

“We live in a culture that gives women greater latitude to cry and show emotions, and often expects males to solve problems in unemotional ways,” says McNaughton-Cassill. “Consequently, men and women may seem to cope differently, but a variety of other factors — including age, physiology, personality and prior experiences — shape stress responses.”

Doctors and professionals recommend decreasing the consumption of fast foods, caffeine and excess fluids before bed. Also, decreasing the length of naps from several hours to 25 minutes will allow one’s body to regain sufficient amounts of energy while not getting used to sleeping. Refraining from exercise, nicotine consumption and background noise is also recommended.

For the usual college student, there are many pressures that raise stress levels: school work, organizations, social intimidation, sexual temptations, jobs, athletics and family. “Stress is a function of how people assess threats,” states McNaughton-Cassill. “In many cases, the degree to which something bothers you is a function of your resources for dealing with it.”

Many young adults are living by the saying, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or “You only live once,” believing that there’s too little time for one to be sleeping. Lack of sleep affects many students in different ways, from not being able to pay attention in class or pursue a career to being able to make positive choices.

“We often spend a lot of time wishing things would be different instead of dealing with reality,” concluded McNaughton-Cassill. “The real secret to coping is to understand that you choose your responses, no matter the person or situation you are dealing with.”

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