Shut eye on the fly

Students may find it hard to sleep when exams and term papers are looming in the near future. The pressure and stress has caused many to turn to prescription sleep aids.

A Reuters’ study released this year shows that the number of college-aged adults 18-to-24 using prescription sleep aids has nearly tripled in the last decade.

Dr. Leonard Kirklen, clinical psychologist in the USF Counseling Center, said he seldom suggests prescription medications for sleep problems because they are addictive.

The medications also include many side effects and are not recommended to be taken for long periods of time. He often recommends natural products because they tend to sedate the body, leaving it relaxed so sleep is more natural.

“Three-fourths of the students I counsel are not aware of the natural options in the market or that many of them have been thoroughly tested,” Kirklen said. “However, natural doesn’t mean no side effects and not all products labeled natural are truly all natural, so students should read labels and talk to their doctors.”

Doctors in other countries routinely prescribe natural remedies over prescriptions, Kirklen said,  while in the United States the pharmaceutical companies heavily market their easy-fix products leaving natural aids lagging in the dust.

Carmen Stein, a doctoral student and licensed psychotherapist, cautions against natural aids because they have not been regulated or rigorously tested.

“With regulated medication we know how much a child can take versus an adult and which medications just shouldn’t be taken together,” Stein said. “If there was some great natural product out there the pharmaceutical companies would have snatched it up.”

Lauren Johnson, a sophomore majoring in education, started struggling in school because of sleepless nights and has turned to natural sleep aids sold at the local Whole Foods Market.

“I have been taking Relaxity to ease stress and make my body and mind calm before going to bed,” Johnson said. “So far, it seems to be helping me fall asleep and not have stressful anxiety during the day. I do not take the pills everyday, but have not yet noticed negative side effects since starting it two months ago.”

Johnson said she has not consulted her doctor about her natural remedy intake and is not all that worried since the products are labeled as natural.

“I am really looking forward to trying another sleep aid by the name of Dreamerz because it comes in chocolate bars as well as fruity and chocolate drinks,” she said. “It seems fun because its ingredients are not packaged in a pill.”

Take the time to unwind from the day

“Ideally an hour, but even 20 minutes, needs to be taken to clear the mind of the things of the day before lying down to sleep,” Kirklen said.

A common mistake students make is studying right before going to bed, he said.

“There may be a lot of legitimate time pressures, but if they do not take some time to put the books aside and make the transition from the day, they will spend countless hours trying to fall asleep afterward,” Kirklen said. “The brain cannot simply shut off after going to classes and studying all day.”

To get an easy night’s rest without the assistance of pills, Stein suggests a few things. She said the warmth of a hot bath is always helpful and listening to slow, soft music can relax one to sleep. She also said a classic warm cup of milk releases enzymes that allow the brain to rest.

Find the cause

There are many triggers inhibiting sleep, including test anxiety and depression, but the No. 1 cause is stress. The inability to fall asleep — or an unproductive sleep — leaves the body exhausted the next day.

To fall asleep and get a good night’s rest, the body needs to be relaxed physically, emotionally and mentally. Many students find it hard to relax because they are worrying about financial, school and personal issues.

“Students need to balance and prioritize. When trying to put 100 percent into everything, the numbers just don’t add up,” Kirklen said.

“If there is no downtime away from school, you will mentally burn out and not be able to concentrate and become less productive.”

An inconsistent schedule is another factor in poor sleep because it does not allow the body to get on a regular timetable of knowing when to fall asleep and can restrain the normal stages of sleep.

“I feel that my sleep problems are stress-related because I do not have trouble when I am not taking classes and I am always stressed during the school year,” Johnson said.

Stein said sleep problems could be the result of a medical condition rather than stress or an inconsistent schedule, so it is important to find the source and learn how to treat it.

Students can go to theCounseling Center to speak with a psychiatrist or psychologist for free to try to determine what is triggering their sleep-related problems and how to best solve them.