Eat, sleep, focus foster student alertness

While the weather outside gets colder, warm classrooms may cause students to nod off this winter.
“The warmer a classroom gets, especially after eating a meal, the more likely a student will nod off,” said Donna Hare, Communication Studies professor. “Each building and room seems to have its own unique temperature setting.”
Hare lists multiple reasons for students nodding off in class. Lack of sleep, varying room temperatures and poor delivery skills on the part of the presenter are all factors. Hare also cites inconsistent classroom settings as a source of students’ sleepiness.
Augustana students are known for increased involvement on and off campus. All this time spent committed to extracurricular activities can take a toll when students put sleep on the back burner, according to Hare.
“A few late nights to catch up seems like a good idea, but it causes (students) to fall asleep or zone-out during class time,” said Hare. This, combined with a lack of interest or a full class period of lecture, can often lead to students dozing off in class.
According to an article from the University of Cambridge, biology plays a role in why students are prone to fall asleep during their classes. There is a part of the brain that reacts to the surrounding environment and controls a person’s sleep-wake cycle, and without proper stimulation, attentiveness can suffer.
The article states that “blue light actually stimulates your brain and your body to wake up. It does this by affecting this little region in your brain that’s called a suprachiasmatic nuclei.”
The article also mentions that dark lecture halls and classrooms do not provide the right stimulation the brain needs to function at the levels necessary for classroom thinking. Settings similar to a student’s bedroom, especially warmth, will cause higher probability for sleep.
To combat drowsiness, Hare recommends sticking with a routine.
“Start a routine and stick with it; your body needs it,” she said.
Hare also suggests trying to get to bed around the same time every night, and when that is not possible, small power naps outside of class are always helpful. Finding ways to engage with the lecture and connect with the speaker are also ways to stay alert.
“Find a reason why their message relates to you, play devils advocate with them in your mind to see if they can fully support what they are saying, outline key ideas of what they are saying in your notes, etcetera,” said Hare.
Hare also suggests that changing posture can help to re-energize by focusing especially on not slumping or putting your head down. And when students know there is a particular class that puts them sleep, avoiding carbohydrates before class will help keep focus as well.
Senior Megan Petersohn, a biology and neuroscience double-major, said students should try holding their breath. As the body’s carbon dioxide levels rise, different defense mechanisms are triggered, which feels like a short-term burst of energy.
Junior Lisa Bartha, an elementary education major, said classrooms that are set up with tables that allow students to engage with other students in discussion helps them to stay awake.
Each method varies by individual, but knowing what classes make a student doze off and what tactics to use to stay awake are key. Sometimes students just need a small stimulation like sophomore Andie Liebgott, who likes to chew gum or switch pen colors.
Other instances, in which students need a lot of stimulation, requires a jolt of caffeine. Either way, sometimes all students need a little boost to stay  awake in class.