SHS seminar encourages students to pursue healthier habits

Student Health Services hosted a seminar on Thursday, Feb. 16 for students interested in learning how to improve their sleeping and eating habits. Britt Black, the director of SHS, led the seminar, focusing primarily on how sleep and nutrition affect physical and academic performance.
Terri Brownlee, the national nutrition manager at Bon Appétit Management Company, began the seminar by discussing both the timing of meals and the importance of balancing macronutrients — carbohydrates, fats and proteins — on sports performance. Due to a lack of structure and irregular sleeping patterns, college students often have trouble implementing the habit of eating regular meals. “The reality is no one’s going to perform mentally or physically if they’re not fueling their body in a regular fashion.”
The seminar then shifted to the importance of sleep. Beth Walsh, a nurse practitioner at SHS, reported that 40 to 50 percent of college students routinely get inadequate sleep and that the average amount students sleep has decreased by two hours since the 1980’s. Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night, and teenagers — including many Wheaton students — need as much as eight to 10 hours. In fact, routinely getting fewer than six hours of sleep per night is correlated with decreased immune function, obesity, Type II diabetes, cancer, depression and anxiety, she explained.
Junior Michael Polimenakos attended the seminar and confessed not getting enough sleep due to late-night studying and 8:00 a.m. classes. He said being sleep-deprived had affected both his physical and academic performance. “It’s so hard to study when you are tired,” Polimenakos said. “Lack of sleep just makes you feel like not studying and makes it so much harder to concentrate and retain the information.”
Walsh also acknowledged that there are medical reasons for fatigue, such as thyroid disorders, depression, mono or other viruses. “It’s one of the most frequent visits I have in the health center,” Walsh said regarding students who have excess fatigue regardless of healthy eating and sleeping habits.
But most causes of tiredness are due to non-medical reasons. Caffeine and alcohol intake, blue light from electronics and long naps after 3:00 p.m. can all disrupt a good night’s sleep. Walsh said the best way to ensure consistent adequate sleep is to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including on the weekend.
“The topic of discussion was extremely applicable,” said Polimenakos. “I eat and sleep every day of my life.”
Another junior, Adam Considine, who is interested in studying nutrition, said he is, “always looking for ways to be happier and healthier,” Considine remarked that he would try to implement some of the guidelines Brownlee and Walsh gave, such as eating more meals throughout the day, staying hydrated and going to bed at the same time every day.
Sophomore Cassidy Griffith said the seminar also helped to refocus her spiritual life. “I have a renewed appreciation for sleep and its restorative power in our lives. In this busy season, the Lord is revealing to me that he desires for me to rest in Him,” Griffith said.
“In general, I believe the type of student that Wheaton attracts have learned the importance of fueling their bodies well in terms of sleep and good nutrition, but it is also a time where students are learning to make these choices on their own,” said Walsh. “There is always a learning curve in self-care as students adjust to being in charge of these basic needs.”

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