Sleep Deprivation and College Students—Statistics, Symptoms, and Solutions

Sleep Deprivation and College Students—Statistics, Symptoms, and Solutions

Kaitlin Gallo, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer, CCH

College students are well-known for staying up until the wee hours of the night and even pulling “all-nighters.” They have a lot on their plates—from schoolwork, jobs, and extracurricular activities, to family responsibilities, friendships, relationships, and social opportunities. Whether to write a paper before a next-day deadline, a Netflix binge-session with roommates, staying out late at a party, or simply trying to fall asleep but not being able to do so, college students often face their days without having had enough rest in the previous night or nights. While students might view being tired as a necessary part of college, sleep deprivation can take a real toll on students’ health and wellbeing.

Fifty percent of college students report feeling sleepy during the day, while 70% of students are not getting a sufficient number of hours of sleep on a regular basis. (While everyone is different, on average, college-aged young adults need about eight hours of sleep per night.) Sleep quality, a measure of whether sleep is effective (i.e., restful and restorative), is made up of a combination of factors: how long it takes to fall asleep, number of times waking up per night, amount of nighttime wakefulness, and how much time is actually spent asleep once in bed. Sleep quality is also poor among college students on average, with one study showing that over 60% of college students met criteria for being poor-quality sleepers.

When sleep quality and hours spent sleeping are substandard for a period of time, it can result in sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation, or the “cumulative effect of a person not having sufficient sleep,” can manifest in various ways among afflicted students. When sleep deprived, students may experience extreme drowsiness, nervousness, and physical tension. They might have trouble concentrating and making decisions. In fact, a large majority of students report that not getting enough sleep gets in the way of a strong academic performance. Sleep deprivation can also result in more extreme consequences like lower GPAs, increased risk of dropping out of school, getting sick more often, difficulty with mood regulation, and a bigger risk of getting into motor vehicle accidents. Unfortunately, these effects of sleep deprivation can often turn into a vicious cycle of more sleep deprivation, as stress and poor physical and mental health can then lead to difficulty sleeping.

Fortunately, for students who are dealing with sleep deprivation, there are ways to help. Easy fixes like keeping the room totally dark with a cool temperature, having a bedtime routine that minimizes use of bright-light devices immediately before bed, and limiting naps can help. Getting enough exercise (but not too late in the day) and limiting caffeine and alcohol can also make a big difference. Apps such as Christie Campus Health’s mindfulness and meditation app, Headspace, include programs and exercises to initiate a restful night’s sleep. For some people, though, a more in-depth intervention, such as an ICBT program or meeting with a clinician, will be most effective in relieving sleep difficulties.

Being well-rested can help students thrive through even the busiest times. Providing students with resources to help them get a good night’s sleep can go a long way to improving students’ physical health, mental health, and academic success.


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