Guest Opinion: When college athletes don’t snooze, they lose

Since the relationship between sleep deprivation and sports performance first appeared on the radar of medical researchers, studies have consistently pointed to sleep as the most effective natural performance enhancer.

Today, sleep deprivation is a full blown epidemic at the national level, according to the CDC. And on college campuses across the country, it’s even worse. For athletes with full schedules and exhausting travel demands, sleep is treated as a luxury, not a necessity.

With exhaustion among collegiate athletes reaching epidemic proportions, health experts have initiated aggressive new efforts to educate student athletes on ways to improve their health by first improving their sleep.

For many, respite from restlessness begins by understanding the ways in which commonplace technologies can either help or hinder sleep.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 90 percent of Americans now use a computer or mobile electronic device within 60 minutes of going to sleep. Adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are most engaged with smartphones and tablets between the sheets.

But research shows that artificial light from mobile devices can disrupt specific brain chemicals that promote sleep. Prolonged exposure to a bright tablet screen, for example, impairs the body’s ability to produce melatonin, a natural hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles.

Although it’s not advisable to actively engage with phones and computers in bed, that doesn’t mean mobile technology can’t help improve the length and quality of your sleep.

Increasingly popular with athletes and chronic insomniacs is Sleep Genius, a groundbreaking new iOS app that delivers a scientific concoction of sound technologies that puts you to sleep faster and keeps you asleep longer.

Inspired by years of research used to help astronauts obtain more restful sleep in space, this technology is now being put to effective use in dorms and bedrooms everywhere. So far, clinical trials indicate that this neuroscience based sleep program improved sleep for 75% of users.

Unfortunately, one of the reasons so many college students require the aid of technology like Sleep Genius to obtain better rest is their dangerous dependence upon energy drinks.

With consumption at record levels among college students, energy drinks have been linked to insomnia, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeats, mood changes, dehydration and even seizures.

Alarmingly, the popularity of energy drinks is rivaled only by the popularity of sleeping pills.

What is usually intended to be a temporary solution for sleeplessness routinely evolves into a lengthy relationship between students and sleeping pills. But even short-term usage can still result in so-called rebound insomnia, making it exponentially more difficult to fall asleep after the pills are discontinued.

When you consider that medicinal sleep aids may worsen or even provoke depression, it’s painfully evident why a growing number of healthcare professionals view sleeping pills as a prescription for disaster among college students.

Ultimately, however, the path to better sleep begins with personal responsibility.

If you’ve ever articulated the common athlete mantra which holds that “sleep is for the weak,” let it be known that science has officially proven you wrong.

Every consequence of sleep deprivation works in concert to weaken the mind and body. Without enough sleep, you’re more inclined to get sick, get injured, and get sidelined from school and sports.

“You snooze you lose” is an adage with which we are all familiar. But scientists and medical researchers have illustrated with frightening examples again and again that it’s the people that don’t snooze who are at greatest risk of losing something important: their health.

 

MICHAEL ESSANY is a bestselling author and senior editor of Mobile Marketing Watch who has also been featured on CNN, Oprah, NBC’s Today and inside the pages of Time, Newsweek and People. For more information, visit www.MichaelEssany.com.

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