Facts About Sleep: (from the National Institutes of Health)
- College students are one of the most sleep-deprived populations.
- Research at Brown University has found that approximately 11% of students report good sleep, while 73% report sleep problems.
- 18% of college men and 30% of college women report having suffered from insomnia in the past 3 months.
- Sleep deprivation in students has been linked to lower GPAs because sleep affects concentration, memory and the ability to learn.
- The average adult sleeps less than seven hours each night, when most need eight or more hours.
- More than one-third of adults report daytime sleepiness at least a few days per month that interferes with work or social functioning.
- As many as 70 million Americans may be affected by chronic sleep loss or sleep disorders.
- Learn more about the importance of sleep by watching these videos produced by CBS News™:
Frequent Questions and Concerns about Sleep
Why is good sleep so important for college students?
Regular and restful sleep is essential for good health. Sleep helps you feel less stressed and even helps you to maintain a healthy diet. College students often lead very busy and stressful lives. Everyday activities such as going to class, working out, or working on a computer can strain your mind and body. Sleep deprivation can affect important aspects of your mind and body such as your mood, energy, ability to learn, memory, good judgment, reaction time and efficiency.
How does sleep help?
Sleep is a process with several distinct phases. At each phase, different physiological processes take place:
- Deep and restful sleep helps to restore energy you expend during the day.
- Your brain is actively working while you sleep to create new pathways for areas such as learning, memories and new insights.
- Good sleep helps your body to fight off common infections by releasing key hormones while you sleep.
- Sleep gives your heart and vascular system a rest by reducing your heart rate and blood pressure.
How can sleep deprivation affect me if I have a chronic mental health disorder?
Lack of quality sleep increases hormone levels which can affect mood and stress levels. It can lead to problems with concentration, memory, judgment, problem solving and reaction time, and worsen symptoms related to your mental health disorder. Your coping skills can also be compromised if you are not feeling fully rested. Your academic performance can suffer due to sleep problems. When your concentration is compromised, your energy level is low or you have lowered memory retention, it may be harder to pay attention in class, harder to study, and definitely more difficult to perform well on a test.
What if my sleep problems are caused by my mental health disorder or my psychiatric medication?
Sleep disruption is a common symptom of many mental health disorders. Those who have Bipolar Disorder, for example, can have irregular sleep patterns which in turn can bring about or worsen their depressive and manic episodes. Anxiety and depression can also make it very difficult to relax and fall asleep. In addition, some psychiatric medications can alter sleep patterns. Severe sleep problems may need special attention as part of treatment. Effective medication and non-medication treatments for sleep problems are available. It is best to speak with your healthcare provider for his/her recommendations based on your individual symptoms and experiences.
How do I know how much sleep I need?
Most adults need an average of eight hours of restful sleep per night. But this varies by individual. The best way to determine the right amount of sleep for you is to spend one week waking up naturally without an alarm clock. At the end of the week, average out the amount of sleep you received each night. Use this sleep diary to help you keep track of your sleep during this time.
Can I sleep too much?
Yes. Oversleeping can also lead to some of the same problems that result from sleep deprivation. Sleeping too much has also been shown to increase the risk of heart problems, obesity and cognitive impairment.
How does sleep affect my diet?
Research has shown that lack of sleep leads to insulin sensitivity which can lead to increased cravings for high-calorie foods. This is especially important information for students who are taking psychiatric medications that may increase appetite or those who have a medical condition such as diabetes. Click here to read more about nutrition.
Tips for a good night’s sleep:
As a college student, there are many factors that may make maintaining a regular sleep schedule difficult, such as living in the residence hall, studying for exams, late classes, and socializing. Your daily habits and activities may affect how well you sleep. The demanding lives of undergraduate and graduate students can make it challenging to maintain healthy daily habits. Below are some suggestions for ways you can modify your daily routine to promote better sleep:
Incorporate a small amount of time each day to be outside in daylight. Time spent outside during the day helps to preserve your body’s sleep and wake cycles. There are many options on campus for this:
- Walk to class.
- Study outside.
- Play a regular outdoor club sport.
- Sled in the Arboretum in winter.
- Relax in the sun with your friends.
- Organize a weekly walk outside with your friends to get benefits of both exercise and sunlight.
- Work a job that allows you to be outside:
- Visit the student employment website for other outdoor job options for students (both work-study and non work-study jobs).
Try to get some physical activity on most days.† Exercise can promote more regular sleep and wake patterns as well as reduce stress.† Itís important to avoid exercise and other vigorous activities three-to-four hours before going to bed to avoid awakening the body even more and making it more difficult to fall asleep.† To learn more about the benefits of exercise or to find ideas for fun exercise options on and around campus, click here.
A regular meal schedule can also help you get a good night’s sleep. Eat smaller meals and be especially careful to avoid heavy meals near bedtime. Your eating schedule may be dictated by your class/work schedule or by the times when your friends are eating. Click here for tips for achieving a regular eating schedule.
Limit Caffeine and Nicotine. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, which disrupt sleep. It is best to stay away from these after lunchtime. If you are up late studying or just need a little more energy, try a small energy-boosting snack instead of a caffeinated beverage.† If you feel that you have to have caffeinated coffee when you are up late studying, try to limit the amount of caffeine by filling half your cup with decaffeinated coffee.
Avoid alcohol close to bedtime.† Alcohol is disruptive to sleep, particularly if you have a mental health disorder. Keep these facts about alcohol and sleep in mind when deciding when and how much to drink:††
- Sleep experts recommend avoiding alcohol at least four to six hours prior to bed.
- A common but inaccurate belief is that alcohol helps people sleep. Although it may help people fall asleep faster, research has shown that alcohol disrupts sleep throughout the night.
- Alcohol aggravates snoring and sleep apnea. Sleep apnea has been linked to chronic medical conditions including hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases.
- Drinking alcohol while on medications, including psychiatric medications, can further worsen sleeping problems and side effects.
Practice time management with your school work. Worrying in bed about the next day or week can keep you from falling asleep. Try to stay on top of your school work to decrease your overall stress and worry, and to reduce last minute cramming. In addition, mentally plan for the next day before getting into bed. Journaling before bed is a technique that some students find to be helpful in addressing concerns before bed. See academic skill building for more information on topics such as time management and study skills.
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. Sleep deprivation hinders your ability to perform complex cognitive tasks like those required on exams. And it is unlikely that you will retain much information that you study while sleep-deprived. It is better to sleep the night before an exam, even if it means studying for fewer hours. Remember: research has shown that a good night of sleep is more beneficial for learning than staying up late cramming.
Avoid naps during the day. Staying up late and napping the next day is a common practice for students. However, in addition to the problems associated with staying up late, sleeping during the day for long periods will further 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 try to do it at the same time each day before 3pm.
Don’t rely on weekend catch up. You may be tempted to rely on the weekend to “catch up” on sleep that you missed during the week. Generally, this only worsens your sleep pattern. The best solution is to get a regular amount of sleep as many nights as possible.
Minimize Sleep Disruptions. Living in places like residence halls, apartments, houses or fraternities/sororities with a large number of people can make it very difficult to control your sleep environment. Your roommate might be up studying late with a light on, or your housemates may decide to entertain until very late. You can be creative in finding ways to reduce the disruptions that keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. Below are some suggestions:
- Talk to your roommates about setting a regular sleep time so they can be respectful of your need for a quiet environment.
- Purchase a white noise machine to block out unwanted sounds from within your own room or even outside. Instead of or in addition to the white noise machine, ear plugs or a small fan may be helpful.
- Use a sleep mask to block out any unwanted light. This could be a great compromise with your residence hall roommate who may prefer to stay up later to study.
- Purchase a desk lamp for you and each roommate to avoid using the overhead lights when one of you is sleeping.
- Create a comfortable sleeping area to improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you have the option, choose the pillows, mattress, and bedding that are most comfortable for you.
- Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature (ideally, slightly cool), and well-ventilated.
Go to bed and wake up as close as possible to the same time every day. Having a set bedtime and rising time will help your body get used to a sleeping schedule.† Try to keep this same routine on the weekends as well, understanding that there may be exceptions depending on your schedule.† Talk with your roommates about how you can establish a regular sleep routine in your residence hall room, apartment or house.
Use the bed only for sex and sleeping. Avoid doing other activities such as studying or watching TV. This ensures that your body will not associate the bed with these activating tasks, which can make it harder to fall asleep. If there are few options other than your bed for these activities, reduce the level of intensity of the reading material or TV programs you select.
Go to bed only when you are sleepy. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a relaxing activity outside of the bedroom until you feel sleepy again. Try deep breathing or relaxation techniques if you are having trouble falling asleep due to stress or anxiety.
The more you know about your own sleep patterns and your own sleep needs, the more you can use sleep as a tool to increase your productivity and help you manage the symptoms of your mental health disorder. It may be helpful to track your sleep over the course of a week or two using a sleep diary. You may not realize how some of your habits may be making it more difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep.
If you are having persistent sleep problems regardless of what measures you take to improve your sleep, or if you are concerned that you may have a sleep disorder, click here to learn more about sleep disorders or talk to your care provider.
For more information about treatment for sleep problems or sleep disorders, or to learn about sleep research opportunities, contact the U-M Sleep Disorders Center or the Depression Center Sleep & Chronophysiology Lab.
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