It’s 4:12 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. Where are you? Are you just hitting the hay? Have you been asleep for a few hours? Did you turn in at your regular bedtime of 10 p.m.? It seems if you’re a college student, all of those choices seem plausible except the last one.

“When I have class [the next day], I usually get five or six hours of sleep,” sophomore Dan Steinberg said. “But that’s only twice a week. On the other days I get like eight or nine.”

While patterns like this appear normal to the average college student, it can cause problems.

The Strong Sleep Disorders Center sees patients of all ages. “The most common thing we see in the 18-24 age group is a thing called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome,” Associate Director of the Strong Sleep Disorders Center Joseph Modrak said. “What happens is your body clock gets out of kilter – you can’t get to sleep at a certain time, like 1 a.m., and it’s hard to get up early, like before 9 a.m. or 10 p.m.”

DSPS is a disorder in which the major sleep episode is delayed two or more hours past the desired bedtime. The delay creates a temporary burst of insomnia, where the sufferer cannot fall asleep until the early morning hours and finds it difficult to wake up in the morning.

Unlike most true insomniacs, DSPS patients fall asleep at the same time every night, regardless of when they went to bed the night before. DSPS is similar to jetlag, but longer lasting – usually existing for at least three months.

The body clock Modrak mentioned is the body’s internal way of scheduling its activities, called the circadian rhythm system. This internal clock is controlled by a variety of hormones released over the course of a day depending on outside signals such as daylight and eating. When these signals appear in different patterns, such as pulling an all-nighter or partying into the morning hours, the body’s clock gets out of sync.

“I can pull an all-nighter pretty easily as a result of working,” Student Security Aide and senior Jeff Lehn said. Lehn works the 8 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. shift as a Student Security Aide manager. “As long as you’re sort of in the rhythm, it’s OK.”

Lehn isn’t the only student who has adjusted his schedule around work. Senior Joe Elacqua works the midnight to 8 a.m. shift at the ITS service desk twice a week. “This is my fourth year [working the shift] – it’s gotten a lot easier,” he said.

Modrak also explained that the usual sleep cycle can be offset on the weekends, where patients will stay up later and get between nine and 12 hours of sleep, sleeping into the afternoon, to make up for sleep lost during the week.

“I go to bed around 4 or 5 and sleep till 4 or 5,” sophomore Meredith Harvey said. “If I had to wake up early, it would be a huge problem.”

This seems to be a common pattern among students. “During the week, sometimes I have to sleep in an extra hour and skip that one class,” freshman Kyle Aures said. “I don’t think it’s a big problem because I think I catch up on sleep on the weekends.”

Lehn makes sure his sleep schedule doesn’t get too off on the weekends. “I set alarms so that way I don’t oversleep or else my schedule would get messed up during the week,” Lehn said.

Some students turn to caffeine and naps during the day to alleviate the sleepiness that occurs after late nights. “I take caffeine to get me going, but not really to stay up late,” Steinberg said.

“If I had an early class, I would take a nap before work and a nap after work and I’d be OK,” Lehn said.

Both of these “remedies” for sleepiness can hurt students in the long run by further disrupting the circadian rhythm system. While you are asleep, you experience a stage of rapid eye movement sleep along with a stage of non-REM sleep.

During REM sleep, the body is very active. Non-REM sleep is a deep sleep, during which your body recharges itself. Naps provide deep, non-REM, recharging sleep. However, if you take a long midday nap, you may have trouble getting to sleep later that night because your body clock has readjusted its schedule.

If you’re worried about dying from DSPS, relax before you stress yourself out and lose more sleep. Most cases of DSPS are treated by waking up and going to bed 15 minutes earlier every day until the desired sleep schedule has been reached. “The real key is to stick with it on the weekends and not to get too far out of whack then,” Modrak said.

More severe cases may require the help of a melatonin supplement, a natural chemical that collects in the body in the later part of the day, or a prescribed sleep aid. The Strong Sleep Disorders Center sees some patients from UR, often referred to them from University Health Service. All students are encouraged to schedule regular appointments with their primary care provider at UHS. If a problem is identified during a regular checkup, the treatment or appropriate referral can be made.

Sleep is a precious necessity in life. In addition to sleep disorders, disruptions or other problems can cause the body to be susceptible to illness. Take an interest in your health in this important time in your life and tuck yourself in for a night of rich, refreshing slumber.

Borchardt can be reached at

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