Student Life

Student Health Center - Health Information


Common Sleep Problems in College Students

According to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), more than half of the country's young adults report "waking up feeling unrefreshed" (55%), and the percentage of young adults suffering from significant daytime sleepiness (33%) is comparable to that of shift workers (29%), a notoriously sleepy group who try to remain alert at times when their brains are naturally inclined to sleep.

The three most common causes of sleepiness in college students are:

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Sleep Deprivation

There are a number of common causes for sleep deprivation. One or more of the following factors may disrupt the sleep cycle of students.

•  Not allowing enough time to sleep. Studies show that college students obtain only an average of 6 hours of sleep per night. As a student, it is important to keep in mind that no matter how hectic your schedule gets, you should always set aside enough time for adequate sleep. Learn how to properly manage your time to allow for a good night's rest.

•  Stress. All college students experience fluctuation in their stress levels. Balancing schoolwork, activities and a job can be overwhelming. Excessive worrying can contribute to stress and can keep you up at night. Practice relaxation techniques and learn about stress management skills to maintain normal stress levels.

•  Poor Sleep Hygiene. College students often get less sleep during the week and attempt to make up for it during the weekends. It is important to remember that inconsistent sleep habits can lead to chronic sleep difficulties. Waking up at the same time each day is essential in sleep hygiene.

•  Medication. If you are taking any medication, find out what the side effects are. If one of the side effects is preventing you from sleeping, consult with your health care provider about the best time of day to take medication or if it is necessary to change your prescription.

•  Lack of exercise. A person who does not get enough physical activity may experience low energy and will be less productive. Exercising early in the day can promote sleep at night. Do not worry if you cannot do anything too strenuous. A simple 30 minute walk or other form of light exercise will do the trick.

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Insomnia is characterized by the inability to fall asleep, difficulty in maintaining sleep, or waking too early in the morning. Insomnia can be classified in two primary categories: acute and chronic.

•  Short term or acute insomnia , which is often due to a temporary situation such as stress, jet lag, change or loss in a job or relationship, can last up to one month and is treatable. It is important to address the underlying cause.

•  Long term or chronic insomnia , which is experienced for a month or longer, can be secondary to causes such as medical, physical or psychological conditions, another sleep disorder, or medications and substances. It is important to get a medical diagnosis.

There are treatments available for insomnia. These treatments range from behavior therapy to the use of prescription medications, or a combination of both.

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Sleep Phase Delay

Individuals with a sleep phase delay sleep and wake at inconvenient times. Adolescents' sleep patterns naturally undergo a phase delay, that is, a tendency toward later times, for both sleeping and waking. Trying to sleep when their bodies are alert, or rise when their bodies are sleepiest, can lead to insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness. Individuals may rely on sleeping pills or alcohol to manipulate their sleep schedules, which further exacerbates the sleep-related difficulties.

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Sleep Hygiene – Tips for Good Night’s Sleep

Keep Regular Bedtime/Waking Hours: Your body has a circadian clock (24-hr) that thrives on routine. Having a consistent, realistic bedtime hour and wake time will help you feel your best – including in areas of learning, memory, alertness, and performance.

Create a Bedtime Ritual: Take 1 hour before going to bed to relax – read a light book or magazine for pleasure, watch part of a movie, take a shower, listen to soothing music. Avoid heavy studying or computer games.

Avoid long naps: Sleeping during the day for long periods of time will continue to disrupt your sleep pattern – leading to a vicious cycle. A short nap during the day could be helpful, but work it into your regular schedule. Keep the nap to about 30 minutes and do it at the same time daily.

Avoid All-Nighters: While all-nighters and late-night study sessions may appear to give you more time to cram, they are also likely to drain your brainpower.

Don’t Rely on Catch-Up: The urge to rely on weekend catch-up as a way of “averaging out” total sleep for the week may be strong. However, the catch-up game impacts your sleep pattern, which can lead to another vicious cycle and can make for a very unpleasant Monday morning.

Exercise Daily: Regular exercise improves the quality of your sleep. However, don’t exercise too close to bed-time.

Avoid Caffeine & Nicotine in the Evening: Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, which disrupt sleep. It is best to stay away from them after lunch-time.

Practice Time Management in Regards to Schoolwork: Worrying in bed about the next day or week can keep you from falling asleep for hours. Try to stay on top of your school work as a way of decreasing your overall stress and worry. In addition, mentally plan for the next day before getting into bed. Journaling before bed is another helpful technique.

Minimize Sleep Disruptions with a Dark, Quiet Room: Don’t fall asleep with the TV on – flickering light and stimulating content can inhibit falling and staying asleep. Utilize a small fan to mask noise. Ear-plugs and a sleep mask are alternatives.

Expose Yourself to Bright Light in the Morning: The light acts as a signal to the brain to “wake up.”

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Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep: What am I missing?

Why Do I Need Sleep? Sleep is essential for good health, mental and emotional functioning, and personal safety. The proper amount of sleep is usually determined by age. A college-aged person should get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. However, the typical college student fails to make sleep a top priority. Often, you may feel that you’re too busy studying, working, or having fun to slow down and get some rest. Daily stressors may also make it harder for you to enjoy satisfying sleep. Insufficient sleep can be harmful in a variety of ways. For instance, it may lead to one or more of the following difficulties:

Anxiety. Studies have found that people who get less than a full night’s sleep feel more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. This pattern can lead to increased anxiety. Because anxiety can impact future sleep, a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation may develop.

Cognitive Difficulties. Insufficient sleep can cause deficits in attention, concentration, memory, and critical thinking. Because these issues are essential to academic functioning, it is important to get sufficient sleep.

Depression. Sleep difficulties such as insomnia or excessive sleepiness, may be signs of depression or other mood disturbances. In addition, lack of sleep can impact your mood, such as increasing irritability and/or sadness.

Reduced Physical Health. Inadequate sleep can lead to a weakened immune system, and, therefore, put you at risk for health related problems.

Healthy Lifestyle. Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Sleep, like diet and exercise, is important for your mind and body to function at its best. Any or all of the above can have a harmful effect, on your grades, job, athletic performance, driving ability, or relationships.

Making a Change.

You can take control of the quality of your sleep by improving your sleep environment and making sure that sleep becomes a health priority. See also “Sleep Hygiene: Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep.” If you continue to experience problems with sleep and/or its potential consequences, you are encouraged to consult with a health care professional.

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