Sleep is important: while most people are aware of this, not many alter their lifestyles to embrace sleep as a necessity.
A lack of sleep causes some students to rely on stimulants to keep them awake during the day.
Jonpaul Kronser, a sophomore anthropology major, said he gets six hours of sleep on a good night, usually less.
“I love sleep, and the way I know it is: I hate waking up,” Kronser said.
In addition to those six hours, Kronser said he also takes two or three naps a week, normally after his 9 a.m. class.
Erika Darnofall, a junior English major, also gets about six hours of sleep a night, although she said she needs closer to nine hours to feel rested the next day.
“I drink coffee to stay awake,” Darnofall said. “At least one 12 ounce cup every day.”
Neither Kronser nor Darnofall has trouble sleeping on normal nights, but both said they rely on caffeine to stay alert.
Deb Morris, director of health at Hartshorn Health Services, said the amount of sleep needed each night varies with each individual, but seven to eight hours per night is optimal.
The National Sleep Foundation released a sleep poll in 2000, revealing that over half of college students wake unrefreshed, sleepy and unable to get to work or school on time.
To stay awake, some people have turned to stimulants stronger than caffeine, such as ephedrine, over the past three years, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Products such as Metabolife, Xenadrine and Hydroxicut, all tablets designed for weight loss and energy, contain the alkaloid ephedrine.
In August 2000, the FDA issued a warning statement about products containing ephedrine alkaloids. The Consumer Health Products Association adopted these guidelines soon after.
“Consumers should be aware that just because a product is labeled ‘natural’ or from an herbal source it is not guaranteed to be safe,” stated Michael Friedman, deputy commissioner of food and drugs for the FDA, in the report. “The effects of ephedrine alkaloids are potentially powerful ones.”
In the most serious cases reported by the FDA, ephedrine use has resulted in strokes, heart attacks, seizures, psychosis and death. Less serious adverse effects include dizziness, headache, irregular heartbeat and heart palpitations, according to the FDA’s “Medwatch” Web site.
On nutritional information labels, some products may call ephedrine by other names like ma huang or epitonin.
Healthy alternatives to stimulants do exist, although Morris recommends behavioral changes more than pills.
“Probably the most important habit to get into is to go to sleep at the same time every night,” Morris said. “And if you’re having trouble sleeping, don’t lay there and fight it; get up, walk around, read a book. Do something.”
One energizing multivitamin, Vitalert, contains no ephedrine or artificial stimulants. Instead, natural herbs, bee pollen and several vitamins contained in the pills aim to increase alertness.
“Vitalert has a combination of vitamins and minerals, plus energy compounds,” said Phyllis Reutinger, director of sales at Performance Labs, the distributor of Vitalert. “College students are subjected to a lot of stress, and when the body is under attack like that, you feel less alert.”
Reutinger said that activities like drinking and partying deplete the body’s supply of vitamin B, as well as anti-oxidants vitamins C, A and E. Taking a multivitamin containing these essential nutritional components increases brain power, energy and concentration.
Ginkgo Biloba, one ingredient in Vitalert and other herbal supplements, is an herb that increases blood flow to the brain to increase memory, concentration and mood, according to www.WebMD.com. Although the FDA has not evaluated this herb, one possible adverse side effect reported on WebMD is difficulty with blood clotting.
Aside from Ginkgo, Reutinger said the two other main energizers in Vitalert are ginseng and guarana, natural caffeine.
Jennifer Handshew, a public relations representative who works with Performance Labs, takes Vitalert even though she has epilepsy. She said the multivitamin has never made her feel shaky, and it also increases her memory and concentration.
Handshew and Reutinger agreed that since Vitalert is a vitamin with no artificial substances, there is not normally a period of great stimulation followed by a crash in energy.
“It’s like getting a Red Bull in four tablets,” Reutinger said.
Handshew added that there is no drop in energy after taking Vitalert.
The effects of potentially dangerous substances like ephedrine will act as a stimulant to the body, according to the FDA. But safer products with vitamins, minerals and herbs can have just as strong an effect, Handshew said.
However, stimulants may not be necessary if students would get enough sleep, Morris said.
For insomnia, Morris said students should not look to sleeping pills, but rather use other methods like drinking hot tea, listening to calming music and avoiding caffeine.
Drug stores and pharmacies like Rite Aid and GNC sell multivitamins and nutritional supplements like Vitalert and Centrum. Daily vitamins can increase school performance, Reutinger said, by increasing alertness, concentration and memory.
The NSF reports that fatigue contributes to more than 100,000 highway crashes a year, causing 71,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths each year in the United States. This may be due to a disorder they call Excessive Daytime Sleepiness.
The NSF has identified several sleeping disorders including Excessive Daytime Sleepiness, insomnia, Sleep Apnea, Restless Legs Syndrome and several others. Their website, www.sleepfoundation.org, provides questionnaires, quizzes and treatments for these sleep problems.