Between juggling a full school schedule, work and a personal life, college students often spend long nights cramming for a test, accompanied by enormous amounts of caffeine. This requires taking advantage of any down time to catch up on sleep.
It is something that is abundant in childhood, but lacking during college years. Sleep is a necessity, yet college students give more importance on the courses they are taking to complete their degrees. However, lack of sleep can significantly affect performance and mindset in a negative way.
Forty-four percent of students claimed to have only felt rested in the morning for 3-5 days during their past week, according to the 2014 American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA). In that same study, only 9 percent of students said they did not have a problem with daytime sleepiness.
The benefits of sufficient sleep not only include the feeling of being well-rested, but sleep is also necessary for our nervous system to function properly.
Too little sleep causes the loss of concentration, and can lead to memory impairment and compromised physical performance. Chronic sleep deprivation can also cause mood swings and hallucinations, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
The amount of sleep a person needs depends on the brain’s nucleus, which determines the amount of sleep necessary for our body to function properly, said Bahram Alavynejad, Ph.D., sleep physician at the Voltmer Sleep Center at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.
Social circumstances also create changes in our sleep patterns.
Alavynejad said natural sleep schedules are typically different than the demanding schedules people have at school and work.
“If you are a person who likes to sleep at midnight and are able to sleep until seven or eight in the morning, for a total sleep time of seven hours, that may not be allowed by our social circumstances anymore because of what the school requirements dictate,” Alavynejad said.
For college students, the stress of exams and assignments can result in all-night cramming sessions. However, these cramming sessions are proven to be less effective in the long run because cramming only helps with short-term memory.
“The students that cram for their studies at night, as opposed to the ones that have been studying on a daily basis, tend to retain the information that they have learned on a very shorter basis than the students that have been preparing for the test on a long term basis,” he said.
The amount of sleep adults need varies from person to person because it is determined by different factors including age and the individual’s brain biology.
Newborn babies sleep up to 18 hours per day, but as people get older, the total amount of sleep people get decreases. This is due to metabolism changes and medical conditions caused by aging.
“Some people are habitual short sleepers, and some are habitual long sleepers. Some people can sleep for four hours per night and function just as well as others who need 12 hours of sleep,” Alavynejad said.
Unfortunately, people mostly have themselves to blame for sleep deprivation. Humans are the only mammals who willingly delay sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Not only does sleep deprivation cause problems with our school studies, there are many health risks for those who are chronically sleep deprived.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), at least 40 million Americans suffer each year from chronic, long-term sleep disorders.
The most common of the 70 sleep disorders out there include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy. Sleep deprivation can also lead to mood disorders such as anxiety disorder, depression and bipolar disorder.
Sleep is important for every adult, but for college students in particular, that importance is heightened.
Alavynejad said that is because one of the roles of sleep is to process information we are exposed to during the day.
“For people in college trying to learn, it becomes an important subject and unfortunately more and more college students are sleep deprived now than in the past,” he said.
To be able to retain all the information that they learn in college and apply it to their careers after graduation, it is imperative that college students practice effective sleep patterns.
According to NINDS, some tips for a good night of sleep include setting a sleep schedule, exercising, avoiding caffeine and other stimulants and seeking help from your doctor if you have continued sleeping problems.