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Sleepless nights

Marleen Troutt (Daily Egyptian via U-WIRE)/CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Americans call it burning the midnight oil. The French say they're spending a white night. Spanish speakers know it as burning their eyelashes.

However it's said, finals crunch-time means Southern Illinois University students such as Melissa Mendiola will be doing without a few precious hours of sleep to get it all done.

"I'll be up to like three in the morning every night," said Mendiola, a junior in photography from Harvard.

But Gary Myers, a professor of medical humanities and psychiatry from the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, warns that all work and no sleep imposes health risks besides dulling the faculties.

"It's interesting that you start feeling the effects after one night without sleep," Myers said. "Sleep deprivation affects the immune system, so students are more likely to get sick. Students may experience depression, anxiety, difficulty in concentration and irritability."

A 2000 study at the University of California Regents School of Medicine found sleep-deprived subjects had trouble performing simple verbal and mathematical learning tasks, and received lower test scores in mathematics and memory.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) reports that lack of sleep causes concentration and judgment to suffer, the ability to perform even simple tasks declines and productivity is sabotaged. NSF estimates that sleep deprivation costs U.S. employers $18 million in lost productivity each year.

Investigations into the Challenger, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the Exxon Valdez disasters all indicated that employees had been working long hours with little rest, and that the calamities could be partially attributed to sleep deprivation.

Myers said stimulants can help people expend the period of alertness when they feel tired, but the effects can't last for long.

"There's a certain point at which the body's need to sleep asserts itself," Myers said. "Once this point hits you have to go to sleep. More and more coffee can't help you."

Heather Howell used to pop caffeine pills to pull all-night study sessions while holding down a full-time job, but now she's used to her nightly four-hour repose.

"I feel like I'm not even here -- like I'm off in space, like everything's going on around me and I'm just sitting there," sighed Howell, a sophomore in administration of justice from Coulterville. "Next week's gonna be worse."

Mario Batiste's study-fuel recipe is coffee and hot cocoa.

"I have to burn the midnight oil because if I don't, those F's kind of mount up after awhile," said Batiste, a junior in the pre-physician's assistant program. "It hurts for a while afterward because the mind's not totally focused."

Myers advised students to maintain a regular sleep schedule to avoid what is known as "sleep debt."

"The best way to get out of sleep debt is progressively, not all in one night," Myers said. "Try to go to bed an hour or two earlier every night so the sleep cycle isn't disturbed."

Caty Kinnaman has two research projects and five final exams to complete in the coming week besides spending 20 hours a week at the pool as a member of the swim team. But the psychology senior isn't sweating. While she admits she'll be slamming a few more Mountain Dews than usual, she isn't planning to snooze any less than her usual seven hours.

"Swimming has taught me how to manage my time better because I don't have as much time to waste," Kinnaman said. "I don't perform as well when I'm tired. You can plan ahead so you don't lose sleep."

(c) 2001 Daily Egyptian via U-WIRE

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