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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Out like a light

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GRAPHIC: MIA MESSINA ’25/THE HAWK

I love falling asleep but hate waking up. While some people I know jump up at the sound of their alarm, I punch my pillow, quietly cursing out whatever morning obligation has awakened me from my beloved slumber.

I’m a student-athlete who has frequent early morning practices, so this trait of mine does not bode well at all. During my sophomore year, spring practices started at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. Two years later, practices now start at 7 a.m., only slightly better.

Despite my strong dislike of waking up early, it is something that I have to do, so I decided that it would be in my best interest to try to commit myself to a “healthy” sleep routine. So, for one week I set out to acquire at least eight hours of sleep every night in order to make my mornings more pleasurable. I’m usually more of a six to seven hours a night person, so this week I would be gaining at least an hour of sleep per night.

Why eight hours? Well, experts recommend the average adult get seven or more hours of sleep per night, and I wanted to be as healthy of a sleeper as possible.

Nabila S. Enam, doctorate of occupational therapy (OTD), clinical assistant professor and director of the Doctor of Occupational Therapy Program, said sleep hygiene, or having a set sleep routine, is one thing college students can do to prioritize sleep. This routine creates a pattern of sleep that our biological clocks get used to, allowing for a better quality of sleep, Enam said.

“If we create a schedule, our inner clock will automatically start getting used to that,” Enam said. “If you go to bed 10 o’clock every day, after a couple of weeks, you’re gonna start seeing that at around 10 o’clock you start feeling sleepy, and if you’re waking up at 6 o’clock in the morning, you will see that, all of a sudden, you don’t even need your alarm clock.”

Abiding by Enam’s suggestions, I elected to be in bed by 10:30 p.m. every night, so that even on the mornings when I woke as early as 6:30, I would still get my eight hours.

For Gaelic football player Patrick Quering ’26, the 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. practice slot for his team often leads to a loss of sleep that exacerbates the cognitive effects highlighted by Enam.

“For me, it’s a focus thing,” Quering said. “It’s hard for me to lock in and focus on what I’m doing because I’m literally falling asleep. It’s almost like I’m more trying to stay awake than accomplish what I’m trying to do.”

In fact, one study found that getting only five hours per night for four nights in a row negatively affected mental performance to the same extent as having a blood alcohol content of 0.06.

Inadequate sleep not only leads to physical impairment, but it can also have mental effects as well, such as fluctuations in mood.

“If you ever think of time when you’re not getting enough sleep and you feel a little cranky, you’re not ready to handle some of the challenges of your daily life,” Enam said. “A lot of people who are depressed, or have anxiety or stress have poor quality of sleep because their mind might not be able to come to that relaxation stage to be able to get that quality of sleep.”

During my week of sleep, I did begin to notice slight improvements in my mood, specifically when it came to my ability to internalize my stress.

Lindsay Harrity, a sports psychologist at St. Joe’s, said sleep is one of the first things she asks her clients about when addressing issues involving mental health.

“Usually sleep is one of the first things that’s affected, whether it be oversleeping or not sleeping enough,” Harrity said. “People forget that sleep is so important and something simple too that we can focus on, that we can see some big significant changes in mood or mental health symptoms.”

For athletes who have early morning practice, Harrity said adequate sleep is absolutely essential. That’s something Riley McDade, a senior on the women’s rowing team, underestimated when she got to campus her first year.

“If I don’t get enough sleep, I am completely set up for failure,” McDade said. “Even something as simple as during our stretches before we start, if I’m tired, I’m yawning. I’m not really getting a good stretch in just because I’m distracted with being tired, and then if I don’t get a good stretch in, my practice suffers, and then when my practice suffers, my mental attitude for the day will then suffer.”

Increased sleep results in better reaction times, coordination and split-second decision-making, skills that are all vital to athletic performance.

As McDade puts it, it all starts with waking up on the right side of the bed, which sometimes means sacrificing things such as screen time in order to get the best possible quality of sleep.

“I deleted some social media apps off my phone, I deleted TikTok and Twitter and found myself spending too much time on them,” McDade said. “So far, I’ve seen a positive difference.”

Much like McDade, I limited my screen time before bed in an effort to obtain optimal sleep. As an overly anxious person, I sometimes struggle to settle my mind and fall asleep. Despite this, throughout the entire week of my experiment, I managed to fall asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow.

“I also would say get off your phones in bed,” Harrity said. “If you’re staring at social media or scrolling on your phone right before bed, it’s going to be harder to fall asleep.”

Being sleep-deprived for even just one night can increase your emotional response to negative feelings by 60%. Because of how vital sleep is in helping you regulate your emotions, it is important to remember that if sleep quality or quantity is something you are having a hard time with, reach out to a teammate, coach or trainer.

“It’s not something that you should be dealing with on your own or struggling with on your own,” Harrity said. “If you feel like you’re not getting adequate sleep, there may be something else going on.”

Waking up early is still not my favorite thing to do, but with a new and improved sleep routine, it’s getting easier.

This story is part of a series focused on college athletics and mental health. It highlights ongoing efforts by different programs and individuals to break the stigma surrounding mental health across the NCAA.

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Natalie Nevins
Natalie Nevins, Copy Editor
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