Sleepless at Simon Fraser: What you can learn from Vancouver’s first Sleep Expo

Where you can go to learn about healthy sleeping habits

Sleep is a key element of being a good student

By: Jess Dela Cruz, News Writer

According to SFU’s Fall 2018 Undergraduate Student Survey, 65% of respondents work 10–29 hours per week and 42% were involved in an SFU club.  Factor in a full-time course load and personal responsibilities on top of those students’ lives. Now consider the likelihood that they are getting an adequate amount of sleep. . . 

This is a question that will be on the minds of many people attending Vancouver’s inaugural Sleep Expo, which is part of the World Sleep Congress. Open to SFU students and the general public, attendees can learn more about healthy sleeping habits from sleep experts on Saturday, September 21 at the Vancouver Convention Centre. 

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that young adults aged 18–25 require 7–9 hours of sleep — but students rarely meet this requirement. The Foundation says, “too few of us make those eight or so hours between the sheets a priority.” 

A university student’s packed schedule  often makes it difficult for them to catch a few hours of good quality sleep. With this in mind, The Peak reached out to a few students to comment about their own sleeping habits in their personal lives. Alan Cai, a fourth year full-time economics student who works 14 hours per week, claims to only get five hours of sleep per night. He says, “I am pretty sure that is not enough sleep for me.” 

Another student, Madison Wilson, is a fourth year English major and publishing minor who works 8–10 hours a week. She is also involved with the FASS Peer Mentorship Program, participated in co-op, and believes she averages more hours of sleep than other students — she does, however, still feel she does not get enough. 

However, Jacob Koochin, a third year behavioural neuroscience major, recalls the difficult relationship he had with sleep last year in which he slept too much, sometimes over the recommended hours. He tells The Peak, “I would average twelve to fourteen hours of sleep each night.” Koochin continues by stating, “I had pretty severe depression and found out I had sleep apnea and a deviated septum.” 

Considering the lengthy amount of time that is dedicated to note-taking, lectures, studying, working, and even commuting, many students try to catch up on sleep whenever, and wherever, they can. Cai says, “I usually have classes for four to six hours straight . . . [and] when I feel deprived of sleep in the morning, I try to take some naps during the SkyTrain ride from VCC to Production [Way]. If I still feel sleepy after that, [and] when classes get boring, I might doze off during class.” 

When asked about what other factors contribute to the lack of sleep amongst SFU students, Wilson says, “I think stress is the biggest factor of not getting enough sleep. I’ll catch myself half-asleep thinking about everything I need to get done for the upcoming weeks, and it prevents me from truly falling asleep.”  

For Koochin and the situation with sleep he had last year, he says, “I couldn’t keep up with classes and would struggle to even make it to school. I believed something else was wrong and sought out all the medical help I could get.” He describes the changes he has taken to improve his life and says, “[I] am better and happier than I ever have been in my life. I feel successful as a person and husband, and I know I have the strength to pick myself out of any hole I may get in.” 

Each and every student has their own distinctive relationship with sleep; they struggle with it in a multitude of ways and by different contributing factors in their life. A study from the Journal of American College Health  says “student stress and demands may interfere with sleep habits . . . [which] in turn, lead to further problems and thus create more sleep difficulties. This pattern may become a self-perpetuating cycle that students are unaware of and may be unable to alter.” 

It is a common sight across SFU’s campuses to see people left and right with droopy eyes and firmly held Renaissance coffee cup. Yet the National Sleep Foundation further states that “it is important to note that caffeine cannot replace sleep.” And though students constantly turn to caffeine to help them last throughout their six hour — sometimes even longer — day sleep is the preferred way to recover from tiredness and rest the body. 

SFU Health & Counselling Services (HCS) suggests for students to “avoid screen-time at least one hour before you sleep,” and to “monitor your sleep using a wearable device or phone.” Daily exercise and eating nutritious meals are also recommended for maintaining good physical and mental health, which contributes to easier sleep. 

When The Peak asked Cai about his perspective on the general population of SFU students and their own relationship to sleep, he claimed that, “I feel that most of my friends are lacking sleep, but no one is really putting in effort to change it.”

Renee Boldut, a research assistant at the H-Behaviours Research Lab, has been helping to promote the event to SFU students and the community. Boldut is involved with organizing the, “How to Promote Sleep and Injury Prevention?” symposium, as part of the Sleep Expo. She said, via email, “attendees can expect lively presentations about sleep, injury prevention, how to communicate the importance of sleep [and] facilitate discussion about what can be directly applied in the community.” 

Boldut “hope[s] that students will be able to take away points about how they can be more self-aware of their tiredness and how ‘being tired’ affects their performance — and of course how they can measure tiredness and what they can do about it!” 

As stated on their website, “the congress will feature the most current, world-class scientific content in the field of sleep medicine and research,” that “bring sleep professionals from more than 75 countries together to advance sleep health worldwide.” 

The Sleep Expo event is from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with speakers from Austria, France, and Canada. Event topics include “Youth, Sleep & Drugs: Vigilance Fluctuations,” “Sleep Deprivation: The Perspective from the Emergency Room & Sleep Medicine,” and more. 

Cai, like many students, is hoping to be able to improve his own relationship to sleep. “I feel that it might have adverse effects later, which could easily be prevented [. . .]” said Cai.

 “We are all too short-sighted to see.” 

Students who wish to attend the Sleep Expo can register to attend at sleepexpo.org

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