Often, as college students, when we talk to our mothers on the phone there are a few things that we are asked on a daily basis. They will ask if we’re eating fruits and vegetables, getting good grades, exercising, and lastly if we are getting enough sleep. Although it is tempting for college students to stay up late to study, because they are not getting the recommended amount of sleep this is causing their grades to suffer more then they would if they had forfeited the study time to get a better nights rest.
Sleep is crucial if we are going to be able to function at our best and to obtain all of the goals that we are striving to accomplish. Going to college is a change like no other, it’s the transition from childhood to adulthood—often times it feel like there is not enough time in the day to accomplish all that we set out to do.
Though it is frequently joked about amongst college communities, the lack of sleep that students pursuing higher education face is quite alarming. Sleep deprivation is a type of insomnia and is defined in simplistic terms as not getting an adequate amount of total sleep. The average young adult (18-25 years old) is recommended to sleep 7-9 hours per night, and this can still vary from person to person. According to a study done by Robert A. Hicks from the Department of Psychology, San José State University, San José, CA, “71% of college students express dissatisfaction in their sleep.
”(pg.660) Some causes for lack of sleep at night can be when students study and do homework late at night, napping during the day, insomnia, stress causing them to not be able to fall asleep, and relying on caffeinated drinks and drinking them too close to bedtime.
One of the most common ways of making yourself sleep deprived is through insufficient sleeping habits and patterns. In the “Journal of the American College Health Association” a study is conducted at Flinders University of South Australia, Bedford Park, Australia;
“A sample of 211 university first-year psychology students completed a 37-item questionnaire of sleep habits and difficulties. The most commonly reported sleeping difficulty of this population was frequent difficulty in falling asleep (18%), whereas only 9% of the sample had frequent difficulty staying asleep. There was a marked delay (over 90 minutes) in time of going to bed and waking up on weekends compared to weeknights. About 50% of the sample complained of insufficient sleep and estimated needing about half an hour more sleep on the average to feel rested.”(pg105)
As a freshman there is a pressure to overwork and get all A’s in your first semester, sometimes this can increase the probability of developing habits such as going to bed “too late” and waking up “too early” and does not allow you to get the recommended amount of sleep that your body requires to succeed to retain information. Another cause of insomnia that can lead to sleep deprivation is when you use your sleeping space or bed as somewhere that you study or do homework. This can cause your brain to be confused, is it supposed to get ready to wind down and go to sleep, or ready to study and stay awake. This can cause you to experience insomnia, and if this becomes a regular occupancy it can lead to sleep deprivation.
As a college student, you need as much help with retaining information, when sleep deprived the ability to retain information has been proven to not be as effective. Shelley D. Hershner from The Department of Neurology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, says that;
“The consequences of sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness are especially problematic to college students and can result in lower grade point averages, increased risk of academic failure, compromised learning, impaired mood, and increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.”
College can be extremely stressful. First semester freshman is easily stressed and can become extremely anxious and worry about aspects of life because it is unknown. Some of these stressors can be related to classes, doing homework, studying, and taking exams. These seem like normal parts of college, but when everything is new to you, everything becomes a stressor. Frequently stress manifests itself when the student has finished their homework or studying and lays down in bed. Thought they are trying to go to bed, the anticipation and unknowing of what is to come such as the grade they all get in the lab, they turned in yesterday, or if they studied enough for the exam they will take tomorrow. Even though they are making steps towards getting a good night’s rest, they are overthinking, overanalyzing, and not allowing their brain to calm and slow down so they can get the much needed rest to perform well in their classes and on exams. When you are unable to sleep even though they are laying in your bed, this is called insomnia, and this can lead to sleep deprivation. Insomnia can take many forms. It can effect the ability to fall asleep or the ability to stay asleep.
Though the quantity or amount of sleep is important, the quality of sleep can have just as large of effect. Just because they lay in bed for 8 hours does not mean that they got 8 hours of sleep. Stress is a slippery slope, when you are stressed , you lose sleep, and then you are stressed about losing sleep, and you become even more stressed. Some measures that college students can take to help them de-stress before going to bed, increasing chances of uninterrupted sleep is, turning of screens and devices a half an hour before they go to sleep, exercise early in the day—making you more tired by bed time, even writing a to-do list and prioritizing what needs to be done has been said to help prevent stress from keeping you awake at night and causing sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation can also have very blatant effects on mood and health. There was a study done at The University of Pennsylvania, the test subjects were asked to limit their sleep to 4.5 hours per night for one week. They reported feeling stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When they resumed their typical sleep habits they found that their mood and feelings improved immensely.(pg 267–277) Sleep deprivation can also cause short term and long term consequences on your health. There have been multiple sleep deprivation studies, where healthy research volunteers are deprived of sleep, and then tested to see if they could be now more prone to disease. In one study in particular, researchers saw increased blood pressure, impaired control of blood glucose, and increased inflammation caused by sleep deprivation.
When sleep deprived the body will eventually succumb to daytime-tiredness and the urge for a long awaited, long needed nap will manifest. There are ways that naps can be beneficial in helping aid sleep deprivation and the road to recovery—also known as catch up sleep. There are typically two kinds of people when it comes to taking naps. Person A will succumb to their tiredness and will sleep for 3-5 hours, and then will be unable to sleep when it comes time for night-sleep. This can create a vicious and difficult to break cycle. Person B also takes naps, the difference is that person B takes short 10-45 minute naps—also known as “cat-naps”. These rejuvenate and reawaken, without taking away from nightly rest. This way of napping is extremely beneficial when students are sleep deprived and find doing tasks like homework and studying difficult to stay awake for.
While sleep deprived college students vie for quick, short-term fixes that allow them to feel awake for a short amount of time. This comes in the form of energy bars, drinks, gels, goos, ices, herbs, and supplements. Some you may recognize are red bull, monster, Rockstar, Gatorade, 5 hour energy, accelerates, super energizer, energice, and there are countless others. Though these lend a quick fix and a pep of energy these can be extremely dangerous. Dr. Fabian Sanchis-Gomar of Madrid, Spain, leads and an international research team, they have concluded in an article published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology that the cause of many cardiac arrest deaths in young adults and adolescents have been due to the consumption of energy drinks.
In 2007 there were 5,448 caffeine overdoses in the United States, 46% of these overdoses were people who were under the age of 19. Since 2007 the number of young adults and adolescence has increased and the epidemic is even larger then before. Students who are sleep deprived are more likely to feel the need to caffeinate themselves, in the hopes of energy. When they realize that these drinks can aid them in feeling less tired throughout the day, they can come to the conclusion that sleep is less necessary, and they can have energy without sleeping. This is a dangerous cycle that if not broken can affect your body’s well-being in a long term way.
In the “Scientific Reports” journal there was a study published last year. In the study 61 Harvard students kept online diaries of their sleep schedules for 30 days, they identified three types of sleepers, these were; “regular sleepers, or those who went to bed and woke up about the same time every day, and irregular sleepers, who had different sleep patterns every day.” They found that students who were identified as “regular sleepers” had an increased GPA of 0.10 over the other two types of sleepers. Preventing and combatting sleep deprivation is not an easy task, especially as college students have high academic demands as well as other commitments such as jobs, as well as trying to eat healthy, and exercise. Research has shown that the healthiest way to avoid sleep deprivation while also maintaining grades is to get enough sleep by prioritizing stressors, creating a healthy sleeping environment, regulate your sleep and wake time—stick to a routine, take short naps, and avoid energy supplements. By following these research backed strategies you will be able to break your unhealthy sleeping habits, feel rested, happier, and achieve the grades that you strive to attain.