When exam week rolls around, it can be hard to tell what’s normal when it comes to sleep.

“I usually sell coffee from the brewer, what seems like twice as much, during exam weeks,” said 22-year-old history senior Cody Talcott, a morning cashier at the Pugh Hall Chomp & Go.

What makes the difference between cramming and having a real sleep disorder? The answer lies in circadian rhythms, said Dr. Mary Wagner, a pediatric medical and sleep disorder specialist at Shands Medical Plaza. Circadian rhythms essentially regulate the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. Adolescence brings on a change in circadian rhythms that makes it hard to feel comfortable falling asleep before 11 p.m.

“[In healthy subjects] if you let them sleep when they want to, they’re fine … People that have insomnia have problems sleeping even during their preferred time,” Wagner said.

Symptoms of insomniac behavior can be alleviated by exercising regularly, avoiding caffeine close to bedtime and relaxing before bed.

“Avoid irregular sleep onset and offset,” Wagner said.

Certain cues in the environment help to train the regulation of circadian rhythm. She recommended avoiding bright lights like laptops or cellphones before bed to regulate sleep rhythm. Also, try to nap for only short periods during the day, Wagner said.

“For patients who are motivated, [the Shands at UF Sleep Disorders Center] has a very good recovery rate,” Wagner said. In many cases, only one overnight stay is necessary to diagnose and treat problems, according to a Shands at UF Sleep Disorders Center pamphlet.

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