College students, like Americans overall, are sleeping less, and if you are like most college students, chances are you are not getting enough sleep. On average, most college students get 6 – 6.9 hours of sleep per night, and the college years are notoriously sleep-deprived due to an overload of activities. Recent research on college students and sleep indicates that insufficient sleep impacts our health, our moods, our GPA and our safety. Sleep really matters.
WHY do we need sleep?
Sleep is important for a number of reasons. It restores our energy, fights off illness and fatigue by strengthening our immune system, helps us think more clearly and creatively, strengthens memory and produces a more positive mood and better performance throughout the day. Sleep isn’t just a passive activity and something to fill the time when we are inactive, but rather it is an active and dynamic process vital for normal motor and cognitive function.
HOW MUCH sleep do we need?
Most adults need somewhere between 6-10 hours of sleep per night. Different people need different amount of sleep to feel rested. If you are frequently tired or irritable during the day and find yourself sleeping more than an extra 2 hours per night on weekends, then you are probably not getting enough sleep during the week. Try for 7-8 hours and see how you feel.
CONSEQUENCES of sleep loss
Lack of sleep is associated with both physical and emotional health risks. These include:
- More illness, such as colds and flu, due to a lowered immune system
- Feeling more stressed out
- Increased weight gain and obesity
- Lower GPA and decreased academic performance
- Increased mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety
- Increased automobile accidents due to fatigue caused by “drowsy driving”
- Decreased performance in athletics and other activities that require coordination
Sleep and Physical Health Issues
Lack of sleep can cause many health issues, including death, and people are often not aware that they are at risk. Since sleep deprivation can impact the immune system function, our ability to fight off infections becomes more difficult and we are more prone to getting upper respiratory infections, such as cold and flu, and often feel “run down.” That’s because we are! Heart and lung function is adversely affected by lack of sleep and is associated with worsening chronic lung and heart disease and high blood pressure.
Lack of sleep has been linked to obesity. With sleep deprivation, there is an increase in the hormone, ghrelin, which is associated with hunger for high calorie foods. There is a decrease in the hormone leptin which reduces appetite. This leads to weight gain in many people. Lack of sleep impacts brain function, attention span, mood and reaction times. Excessive sleepiness is a leading cause of car and truck accidents, and research has demonstrated that many industrial accidents and disasters, such as nuclear power accidents, major oil spills and space shuttle disasters have been attributed to sleep deprived workers.
Sleep and Mental Health Issues
College students are often at risk for having mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and researchers believe that lack of sleep is a factor. An assessment of your sleep by a mental health professional may be best if you exhibit one or more of the following symptoms.
Sleep and Depression
- Insomnia (often sleeping 6 hours or less a night)
- Too much sleep (often sleeping 10 hours or more a night or “escape sleeping”)
- Regularly feeling fatigue, constantly wishing you were sleeping or napping
- Engaging in day to day responsibilities feels highly tiring or burdening
Sleep and Stress/Anxiety
- Racing thoughts (very high paced) that prohibit settling into sleep
- Recurrent and persistent thinking about 1-2 topics that prohibit settling into sleep
- Repetitive behaviors that needed to manage anxiety that inhibits falling asleep
- Pattern of stressful and anxiety-provoking thoughts that wake you up during sleep
- Experiencing shortness of breath when attempting to fall or stay sleep (that can’t be explained by a medical condition)
Sleep and Relationships
- Trouble enjoying activities within your relationships that are typically fun
- Difficulty regularly listening to what your partner has to say
- Pattern of being quick to get irritated or angry with your partner (increased fighting)
- Regular quality of communication is reduced or more difficult
University Health Center, UGA. 2014.
National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org
The Better Sleep Council, www.bettersleep.org