Fighting the freshman 15 with Zs
Each autumn, freshman students are greeted with a barrage of public service announcement-worthy information cautioning them against the evils of unnecessary weight gain.
Previously attributed to an increase in the availability of junk foods and a decrease in parental supervision, the idea of the freshman 15 has flourished with the fervor of an urban legend.
Scientists, such as Dr. Murray Flotre of the Calgary Sleep Clinic, are finding that weight gain is just one of the negative effects of a significant lack of sleep in one’s routine.
These findings may put a new spin on the idea of the freshman 15’s origins.
“There is no doubt that in some people, poor quality sleep over a long period of time will result in weight problems,” said Flotre.
Flotre said that most adults need seven to eight hours of “good quality” sleep, which can be defined as, “deep and restorative, with no tossing and turning.”
Though both the quantity and quality of sleep are important, quality is the more crucial of the two when it comes to getting enough shuteye.
“To me, it is more important to look at how the patient feels, and if he or she is well rested in the morning, rather than being too concerned with the number of hours they slept,” said Flotre.
With the adoption of an earlier bedtime, it would appear that the dreaded freshman 15 may soon be a thing of the past for college students.
Ellen Rossiter is a sophomore at the University of Calgary who averages six hours of sleep per night.
Rossiter finds that her current amount of nightly sleep is, “not even close” to being enough, and was shocked to learn of the toll sleep deprivation may have on body weight.
“It makes sense when you think about it, because if you’re not getting enough sleep, your metabolism slows down,” said Rossiter. “You won’t be able to break down all the crap that you’re eating as a student.”
Rossiter found that during her freshman year of university, she was lacking sleep due to early classes and school-related stress. She also found herself craving more junk food the more tired she became.
Though choosing to forego cookies and late-night activities may help to curb weight gain, students cite heavy workloads as the main reason for their sleep deprivation.
Denise Macalino is a self-proclaimed insomniac entering her first year at the University of Calgary. Anticipating a heavy course load, she speculates that it will negatively impact her already dysfunctional sleep cycle.
“Sacrificing time to get [assignments] finished after school is going to make it difficult to sleep on time,” said Macalino.
Though spreading awareness of the importance of adequate sleep is necessary in changing students’ attitudes towards the possible origins of the freshman 15, Flotre hastened to remind students that sleep is crucial to many other aspects of one’s health.
Flotre cited a variety of health complications that can be traced to inadequate sleep, ranging from memory and concentration problems to an increase in one’s susceptibility to colds and flus.
“This is because proper functioning of the immune system is dependent upon adequate sleep,” said Flotre.
Flotre recommended a one-hour wind-down time of meditating, light reading, or listening to music to ensure a more restful night’s sleep.
In an article by Jay L Zagorsky and Patricia K Smith, which appeared in Social Science Quarterly in October 2011, it was suggested that while the jury may still be out on whether the freshman 15 is a real phenomenon, steps should be taken by students of all ages to live healthier lives.
“If the “freshman 15” is a real phenomenon, then the first year of college would be a time to focus efforts to encourage healthy lifestyle habits in order to prevent obesity,” said Zagorsky and Smith in the article.
“If, however, the ‘freshman 15’ is a media myth, then focusing anti-obesity efforts on new college students…may cause unnecessary worry or worsen body image in ways that actually contribute to weight gain.”