ANALYSIS | Altered eating & sleeping pattern of college-going students in Shillong during lockdown

ANALYSIS | Altered eating & sleeping pattern of college-going students in Shillong during lockdown

ANALYSIS | SHILLONG | May 28:

Accepting the new normal that is anticipated from the pandemic may bring about changes to bodily rhythms to which may have an adverse effect on one's health. The eating and sleeping pattern of college going students was evaluated during the lockdown 2.0. The study area is Shillong for it being an educational hub whereby many educational institutions and universities are present.

The study was carried out in an online mode using Google Forms which was circulated in the student's whatsapp groups. College/university going students were targeted as this phase is often considered as a period of storm and stress. It is a crucial stage of hormonal adjustment and their life making decisions is influenced by many factors. While some maybe aware of the importance of food and meeting their daily nutritional needs, however, their knowledge and attitude might hinder them from changing their behaviors. Moreover, having knowledge on food and nutrition does not always lead to healthy food choices.

The purpose of this research was to assess sleep and the dietary pattern followed by the said group during COVID 19 pandemic. An overwhelming response was received with as many as 959 students responded in a span of three days. Out of 959 students, 80 percent students belong to the UG category, while 20% were PG students. The average age was 21 years which are justifiable as it is the range of the said education level and the ratio of female and male was 10:4. 

Till the antidote for the corona virus is created, the best bet is to boost our immunity which is a complex system. Among the many ways to boost our immunity is to consume a well-balanced diet and getting ample amount of quality sleep. Researchers have given a lot of emphasis that diet and food choices help regulate our circadian rhythm. There is enormous evidence indicating that sleep can affect the eating habits and vice versa. The circadian rhythms keep our body clock running on time, which in turn keeps all of the bodily functions running on schedule — such as falling asleep at night, waking up in the morning, feeling hungry when we need energy and metabolizing the food we eat. 

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The study revealed – 80 percent of undergraduates and 75 percent of the postgraduate students had a changed eating habit during home confinement. The number of meals per day has reduced than the usual daily schedule before the pandemic. Consuming 'less than four' meals per day was followed by 85 percent of undergraduates and 80 percent of the postgraduate students. According to many experts, individuals who constantly consumed six meals a day were found to have better cholesterol and insulin levels than those who consumed less than three meals. Many metabolic processes in the body such as appetite, digestion and the metabolism of fat, cholesterol and glucose follow patterns that repeat every 24 hours. Eating inconsistently may affect the internal body clock and that interruption might lead to weight gain and other health risks. 

The students themselves had rated 'average' on the how healthy their eating practices are. Seventy two percent of UG and 67 percent of PG students opted for this rating respectively. The reasons stated was stress and eating disorders (30. 2 percent) by the UG and eating disorders (37.3 percent), stress (30.1 percent) PG students. 

Diet affects sleep and in turn sleeps affect long term health. Any behaviors that alter the regular eating habits can interfere with the circadian rhythms and modify the set clocks the body runs on and change the master circadian clock of the brain which controls sleep. The statistics revealed an alarming and noteworthy data where as much as 88 percent UG and 90 percent PG student are experiencing irregular sleep pattern during lockdown. The risks of inadequate sleep extend way beyond tiredness. Sleeplessness can lead to poor performance at any given tasks, increased risk of injury and many health problems. 

According to the National Sleep Foundation 2020, a goodnight's sleep reactivates memories and strengthens brain cells connectivity. With insufficient sleep, one may be susceptible to forgetfulness and brain fogging. Lack of sleep also slows down the body metabolism by causing changes in the hormones (leptin and ghrelin) that are responsible for regulating satiety and appetite. Quality sleep hour's enhances immunity. When one is sleep deprived, the body releases fewer cytokines which greatly affects the immune system making the body prone to infections. When things get in the way, like jet lag, daylight savings time or a compelling sporting event on television, games, social media, assignments that keeps one up into the wee hours of the morning brings about the disruption of the circadian rhythm thereby making one feel out of sorts and can make it harder to pay attention. The circadian rhythm works best when you have regular sleep habits.

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Some adolescents stress themselves too much on family issues, social life and academic burdens which leads them to be unable to get quality sleep tossing and turning all night long. Poor quality sleep in itself can become an added source of stress and lying awake for many hours in bed at night may cause anxiety and negatively effects their daily activities and performance. The reported reason of the irregular sleep patterns by majority of the UG students (80 percent) includes boredom, anxiety and excess screen time. Out of total number of 767 respondents, 600 of UG students said they indulge in excess screen time. This signifies the extensive use of their gadgets which may include addition to games, indulge in surfing the social sites, watching series and movies or doing their assignment.  Excess screen time, especially later in the evening, can have a detrimental impact on sleep. Not only can it stimulate the brain in ways that make it hard to wind down, but the blue light from screens can suppress the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that the body makes to help us sleep. Students who spend more time using the internet have less sleeping time and feel higher levels of tiredness.  

When comparing to University (PG) students, the factors that obstruct their irregular sleep patterns are predominantly academic activities in additional to what the UG students had mentioned. Sixty percent of PG students reported academic stress. Therefore, the quality and quantity of sleep, which usually manifest as short or long duration of sleep, may affect conditions in the early morning such as appetite for the breakfast meal.          

The most important meal of the day, unquestionably, is breakfast which acts as a fuel to jump-start the body. According to ICMR, eating breakfast provides energy for the brain and improves learning. The effect of glucose deprivation is noticeable by a fall in blood glucose level of sufficient degree, which is rapidly followed by disturbance in cerebral function. The gap of about 10 to 12 hours between dinner and breakfast causes low blood glucose levels and habitually missing breakfast can adversely affect cognitive performance. The study also revealed that 48 percent University students and 45 percent UG students missed their breakfast than any other meals. One can clearly see the association of this- 'sleep late and wake up late' thus, missing this meal, proceed to have a brunch instead. 

According to the study conducted in Japan, if individuals with late night dinner eating, delay their bedtime to allow for a certain time period before sleep or prolong the duration of sleep, the opportunity of taking breakfast may be missed owing to wake-up delayed. Habitually, breakfast skipping has been considered to contribute to numerous cardio metabolic conditions including obesity and type 2 diabetes not only in children and adolescents but also in adults including the elderly. Furthermore the students are experiencing  lockdown has the craving for junk foods and fast food with 78.6 percent Undergraduates and 68.4 percent Postgraduate. The cue that is attributed to these cravings are Anxiety, boredom and stress with over 45.5 percent UG students and a total of 53.6 percent PG students.

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Evaluating the relationship between dietary habit and sleep quality is vital, because the food pattern play a significant role in sleep quality. An irregular sleep duration which is associated with both obesity and metabolic disorder, obesity and an irregular sleep pattern are related to unhealthy diet. Students are following a haphazard schedule during lockdown and this effect their sleep and eating and diet cycle.

The lockdown has changed the bodily rhythms, write down the dietary patterns to quality sleep of the students. During this extended lockdown, the students are experiencing additional anxiety, stress and added pressure at home and from an education institution which has an impact on sleep. 

Here are a few tips which can get the students back to pre-corona lifestyles

  • Eating even healthier than the normal habit and enjoying a healthy sleep pattern is important.
  • One got to keep up a consistent sleep and meal pattern, otherwise the body just loses its habitual hormone fluctuation thereby adding to its stress and decreasing its capacity to fight off infections
  • Stick to the eating routine because hormones and sleep quality is affected by how the body is used to the feeling such as whether the stomach is usually more full or not before one fall asleep.
  • Just in case one do not have access to a lot of food, the suggestion is to purchase nutritionally dense food rather than nutritionally empty foods. 
  • Vitamin C is important to help boost immune system – it's found in kiwi and citrus fruits.
  • Be mindful of screen time. The blue light produced by electronic devices, such as mobile phones, tablets and computers has been found to interfere with the body's natural sleep-promoting processes. As much as possible, avoid using these devices one hour before bed. Utilize gadget settings or special apps that reduce or filter blue light. 
  • Stay Active, It's easy to overlook exercise with everything happening in the world, but regular daily activity has various important benefits, including for sleep.

By Ms. Joplin M G Kharjana, Dr. (Ms.) Gracedalyne R S Passah and Ms Phinbet Arti Kharbyngar (faculties of Saint Mary's College Shillong)

The project report "Altered Eating and Sleeping Pattern of College going Students Studying in Shillong" is based on the writers' own work carried out during the lockdown 2.0 of COVID 19.

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