Lack of sleep high among college students, poses health risks
Busier lifestyles with heavy class workloads and sometimes multiple jobs to pay for school are causing students to forego essential sleep.
February 12, 2015
Sitting at a desk with books and perhaps coffee, cramming for an exam or trying to finish up that couple page essay at the last minute while foregoing sleep is a common scene for many college students.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of the Americans surveyed reported getting less than seven hours of sleep on weekdays as well as many saying they sleep extra- long on weekends to make up for it.
The recommended amount of sleep for adults is seven or eight hours, according to the CDC.
While the lack of sleep is large for the average population, it’s been found to be far worse for college students.
With the added stresses of school and work, most students don’t get in enough hours of sleep. Students were found to be twice as likely to be sleep deprived as the general public, according to a study done by researchers from the University of Alabama and University of Cincinnati.
Cosumnes River College Head Nurse Michelle Barkley said that it is not surprising that college students don’t get enough sleep.
“Of course they don’t,” Barkley said. “College kids are multitasking, they’ve got multiple jobs, they’re taking a full load of classes and they’re busy in a different sense. They’re young adults who think that they have the most energy in the world.”
Sleep loss hurts the body overall, but one area crucial to students that it can affect is their ability to learn. Adam Knowlden, the doctoral student who co-authored the dual university study, said in a university press release that during sleep the brain acts like a computer hard drive and cleans up memories, makes connections stronger and gets rid of things it doesn’t need.
“So if a student is sleep deprived, it affects the whole process,” Knowlden said. “Students aren’t able to learn, they’re not able to remember, it’s harder to concentrate and it affects mood. They’re working their way through college and they’re not maximizing their learning potential.”
Barkley said that lack of concentration is just one issue when it comes to sleep loss.
“It decreases your ability to concentrate, your gross motor skills are slowed and reaction times are slowed down as well,” Barkley said. “It makes you groggy and it makes you unhappy and over time it could potentially lead to depression.”
Biology Professor Andrea Salmi also said that lack of sleep can affect student’s learning.
“Sleep is involved in learning and memory,” Salmi said. “During sleep information is moved from short-term to long-term memory so that you can actually retain information”
Salmi said that sleep also plays a role in the regulation of blood glucose and immune functions, and that echoed Barkley’s statements that the lack of sleep is tied to potential psychiatric disorders over time.
“Lack of sleep leads to abnormal insulin levels, so blood glucose become too high, like someone who is pre-diabetic,” Salmi said. “Waste products are also removed from the brain during sleep, so lack of sleep will likely lead to less efficient removal of these products. There also is a relationship between depression and other psychiatric disorders and lack of sleep, the details of which are still being studied.”
Just asking around campus, it was easy to find many who choose to forego sleep for various reasons.
“I have a kid,” said 24-year-old nursing student Fred Garret. “I have to deal with my girl and I have a job.”
Adam Allen, 19, an undeclared major said that he gets less than the normal amount of sleep suggested because he is either up late doing homework or watching television.
Others like Alfonso Villasenor, a 27-year-old architecture major, said they do get enough sleep.
“I get eight hours of sleep every night,” Villasenor said. “I usually go to sleep at 9 p.m. and get up at 5:30 a.m. I do my homework before I go to bed, and if I don’t get it done I get up earlier like 3 so I can finish it. I always try to plan ahead.”
Natasha Supan, an 18-year-old film and digital media major said she tends to get enough sleep as well.
“I typically try to get at least seven hours of sleep,” Supan said. “I’m on the swim team and our coach tries to make us get enough sleep every night.”
While many are losing sleep because of obligations to school or work, it’s not the case for all. Sometimes the cause of losing sleep is out of the hands of the individual.
“No, I do not get nearly enough sleep,” said Taylor Matthews, 21, a graphic design major. “I don’t even sleep some nights, I have insomnia.”
Outside of medical issues like insomnia, which should be discussed with a doctor, there are various ways to curb poor sleep habits now before they get worse.
Knowlden said that there are easy steps to be taken that could help students sleep habits.
Limiting activities that increase mental stimulation near bedtime such as social media use or watching television or even studying will improve the onset of sleep.
Knowlden also said that naps should be limited to 15 to 20 minutes as longer naps can not only signal that one is sleep deprived but also interfere with the natural nighttime sleep drive.
Lastly, Knowlden said that students should try not to change their bedtime and their wake time by more than two hours, because going to bed and waking up the same time each day is ideal otherwise the body’s internal clock can be thrown off by the variation of time.
“Sleep is extremely important to overall health,” Knowlden said. “Poor sleep has short-term consequences on mood, concentration, and higher learning and can lead to the dangers involved in drowsy driving. It also has long-term ramifications on our overall health. Research has found links between poor sleep and diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.”