Dal workshop helping students overcome poor sleep

Approximately 3.3 million Canadians suffer from symptoms of insomnia, according to 2002 research from Statistics Canada.

Sleep deprived NSCAD student Ellie Dixon makes routine visits to coffee shops. (Photo: Vanessa Chagljevich)

It's a school night, and Ellie Dixon is lying in bed contemplating how she will design a new piece of jewelry for her class at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design. 

Creating jewelry requires Dixon to organize her time to ensure she meets project deadlines, which is all part of her routine as a second-year student studying jewelry design and metalsmithing.

"My estimation of how many hours of sleep that I lose trying to figure out what I am going to do for a project is pretty high," Dixon explains. "If it takes me hours to get to sleep, it's because I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to go through this jewelry project, or what I am going to change about it."

Sleep is sometimes the last priority for Dixon, who says her average night of sleep ranges from less than two up to six hours.

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Symptoms of sleep deprivation on the body. (Source: Wikipedia)

Sleep workshop

Students such as Dixon could benefit from the sleep and relaxation workshop Dalhousie Counselling Services provides to help students correct the problem of not getting enough sleep.

Nicolle Vincent, a Dalhousie PhD student and clinical psychologist, is currently teaching the sleep and relaxation workshops to Dalhousie, King's and NSCAD students who choose to register for the two-hour seminar. She shares her knowledge in the area of sleep hygiene and progressive muscle relaxation techniques.

"Because of the social and cognitive demands, good quality sleep is extremely important for university students," Vincent explains. "This is a population that needs assistance.

"Unfortunately," she adds, "there are very few clinicians and resources available to help with this subject. So workshops on healthy sleep habits are, at the very least, one quick way health and mental health professionals can help."

This winter is the first term the workshop is offered to students in the evening.

Students who wanted to register for the workshop had to be turned away, due to room limitations, Vincent explains.

The workshop had been available during the afternoon to students on a weekly basis for years - with limited attendance.

"This interest in an evening workshop may speak to the common college sleep disorder of "Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome," Vincent explains. "Sleeping in during the day to make up for lost sleep during the evening makes it hard for students to accomplish very much - let alone attend a workshop.

Vincent says research suggests DSPS can be twice as common in university samples (11.5 per cent) compared to the general populations.

Sleep for Students

During a session of the sleep and relaxation workshop, Vincent explains how essential restorative sleep is to the body and mind.

Vincent speaks candidly about her own struggles getting proper sleep as a student. She decided after completing her undergrad degree that she would need to make changes to her sleep hygiene. 

"I learned about healthy sleep habits on my own," Vincent explains. " I found some of the simplest changes like, studying in another room - not in my bed; giving myself an hour of non-study time to wind down before bed; and getting daylight exposure first thing in the morning meant the world of change for my sleep.

The goal of the workshop is to help students overcome sleep disturbances that may be preventing them from reaching the five sleep stages.

The workshop also involves learning the steps to achieve muscle relaxation.  Vincent plays a voice recording for students to listen to as they are instructed to breath deeply and relax the body by squeezing and releasing muscles.

Vincent stresses in the workshop, that the inability to reach all five stages of sleep can have serious negative effects on the body and mind (according to the Centre for Clinical Interventions).

  • Poor attention, concentration, and memory
  • Mood disturbances
  • Impaired reaction time
  • Changes to eating habits (usually weight gain)

For each adult, the number of hours required to get a good nights sleep vary, but the average number of hours required for a full rest tend to be anywhere from seven to eight and a half, as reported by the Centre for Clinical Interventions.

Vincent says there is further research suggesting the number of sleeping hours required for a full rest in university students is higher  - around nine and a half hours.

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