Student sleep habits key to improving health, academics


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Many students do not get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep. Sleeping less than seven hours can lead to adverse health outcomes.

Andrew Llamado said he stays up until 1 a.m. in the morning because he does so much during the day, such as going to school, work, studying or the gym and wants to do something fun at night like online shopping or looking at social media. But sometimes, he’s up because he’s stressed out and thinks too much.
Llamado, a 20-year-old pre-nursing major, is not alone.
Many college students do not get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep because of the responsibilities they juggle between school, work, family and stress in their lives. Sleeping less than seven hours per night on a regular basis is associated with adverse health outcomes, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
“I would like more sleep,” Llamado said. “Just too much anxiety and unresolved emotions.”
College Nurse Michelle Barkley said sleep is essential for college students because they need sleep to regenerate their bodies and minds. She added that their brains don’t run as well if they don’t get that restorative time.
“Physiologically, our bodies and our mind, it’s designed to be awake so we need that sleep time to restore everything in our body, our cells, our balance,” Barkley said. “College is a time where there’s a lot of activity going on, a lot of learning and if a student is not getting their sleep, they’re not gonna be at their best to obtain information, to learn, to be healthy.”
Barkley said without sleep, reflexes are slower, the ability to comprehend is slower and the ability to critically think is slower.
“Your body is just trying to survive because it hasn’t rested and it hasn’t been restored,” Barkley said. “Your brain is so tired, with lack of sleep it slows everything down because your body is just trying to function.”
Some tips that Barkley gave for improving sleep were relaxing before going to bed, not looking at the clock, not drinking caffeine eight hours before going to bed, avoiding alcohol and no screen time at least 30 minutes before bed.
“Over time, without sleep, studies (Johns Hopkins Medicine) have shown too that it can cause some mental health issues, a lot of depression,” Barkley said. “Try not to use your bedroom as a place where you do activity, like study. Use your bedroom as a place to sleep to keep that consistent.”
Barkley said students should go to bed at a consistent time every night.
“Everyone’s schedules are a little different,” Barkley said. “As long as you go to bed about the same time every night and wake up about the same time every morning. Our bodies and our minds almost like that consistency.”
Barkley said if students can’t sleep at night, they can get up and do something they don’t want to do, such as cleaning, because it can make them tired and want to go back to bed.
Shania Port, a 20-year-old animal science major, said she sleeps four to six hours each night because of her daily routine.
“It’s kind of a mix of habit and just homework on specific school days because I’m not the best at doing things right when they’re assigned,” Port said. “Sometimes you wait a little bit closer to the actual due date, but then around that time you’re also busy with other things, social life, family duties, chores, going places, groceries.”
More than 65% of people who were dissatisfied with their sleep experience mild or greater levels of depressive symptoms, with 31% reporting moderate-severe symptoms, according to a poll in 2023 by the National Sleep Foundation.
Barkley added that if students can’t sleep better by using sleep hygiene tips, they may need to see a doctor for help.
Biology Professor Jena Trench said sleep is important to not only help students prepare to learn, but their brains are more likely to form memories when they have had a good night’s sleep the night before.
“Our brains also, while we are sleeping, are processing our memories from the day that we just had,” Trench said. “As we’re sleeping, those memories are being converted from short-term memories into long-term memories.”
Trench said that when students are not getting as much sleep, the cells that are responsible for the immune system are not functioning properly.
“We are more likely to get sick, we’re more likely to develop illnesses that are associated with a malfunctioning immune system like cancer,” Trench said. “There’s a lot of really good reasons why students would want to get sleep because not only is it going to help them with their memory, but it’s also going to keep them healthy so that they are able to meet all of their responsibilities and it’s also going to help with their mental health.”
Psychology Professor Naomi Bahm said if students don’t get enough sleep and they take an exam, they may not remember stuff that they knew before.
“If you haven’t had enough sleep, there are actually a lot of physiological differences, like for example, your peripheral vision is actually less,” Bahm said. “So normally, however much you can see around you, that actually gets smaller when you haven’t had enough sleep.”
Bahm said students can improve their grades by getting more sleep. She added that students are going to be more focused, be better able to do schoolwork and pay attention in class.
“They’re going to be better able to remember what they’re studying,” Bahm said. “Your body isn’t gonna be as stressed, you just are naturally stressed if you don’t have enough sleep.”
Bahm said if students are sleep deprived and didn’t sleep well the night before, 10-15 minute naps can help. However, she also said that naps are not recommended if it is done regularly.
“Insomnia in general, just difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep or waking up and not being able to go back to sleep, one of the things they say for that if you have that problem is to not take naps and to always go to bed at the same time, get up the same time,” Bahm said. “It can definitely be helpful in situations where you just haven’t had enough sleep.”
Bahm said students usually sleep for six or seven hours at most and it should be more around eight hours.
Bahm said in order to maintain a healthy weight if students don’t get enough sleep, it can actually be hard to lose weight because the body treats sleep deprivation as a mild stress.
“When your body is stressed, you’re more likely to eat unhealthy things, you’re more likely to eat things more than you need and it just makes it harder,” Bahm said. “People think about exercising more and eating healthier, but you also need to get enough sleep.”