Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 01:10
Over the course of four years, college students learn to be professionals at multi-tasking. Students are expected to navigate a minefield of tests, papers and projects. Oftentimes the stress can pile up, forcing students to prioritize. Inevitably, all-night study sessions are pulled and inordinate amounts of caffeine are consumed. But most students don’t realize the negative effects sleep deprivation can have in the long run.
According to research study conducted by Student Health Services, less than 8 percent of A&M students said they get enough sleep to feel rested. Almost a quarter of the research sample reported they had received a lower grade on an exam in a course or dropped a course due to sleep difficulties.
Adults need an average of eight hours of sleep a night. A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that 70 percent of students receive less than the recommended hours of sleep. The study also found that 20 percent of college students pull all-nighters once a month and 35 percent of students stay up until 3 a.m. at least once a week.
“I rarely ever get eight hours of sleep,” said senior University studies major Christian Stolte. “I spend most of weekends trying to catch up.”
Studies from the American Psychological Association show that overall sleep deprivation impairs human functioning. Partial sleep deprivation has a more profound effect on functioning than either long-term or short-term sleep deprivation. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania discovered that people who had less than six hours of sleep for two weeks were as cognitively impaired as people who had been awake continuously for 48 hours.
“I’ve pulled probably five all-nighters since I’ve been in college,” said senior agronomy major Logan Manning. “I think sometimes it helped, and sometimes it didn’t. I have a job interview later in the week and I know that if I don’t get enough sleep I won’t be able to focus on the questions.”
Many students are unaware of the ramifications that can result from a lack of sleep.
“Sleep affects cognition, anxiety, mood and overall health,” said psychology professor Mary Meagher. “It alters your metabolic and hormone function and can even alter your pain sensitivity.”
Sleep deprivation has many unexpected long-term effects that the average college student may not consider when pulling an all-nighter for an exam. Studies from the Harvard University Medical School revealed a link between short sleep duration and weight gain.
“[Sleep deprivation] is associated with an increased risk for contracting type 2 diabetes and obesity,” Meagher said. “People who are sleep deprived tend to gain weight. It’s also tied to chronic inflammation, which is associated with heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer and other diseases.”
Along with these physical illnesses, a lack of sleep can also be associated with many mental health problems.
“There’s a strong correlation between sleep disturbance and psychological disturbance,” Meagher said. “It can be a trigger for an episode of bi-polar disorder. For most people it’s just a transient thing, but for some it can be a trigger. Sleep disturbances can be symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders.”
A lack of deep restorative sleep shortens your REM stage of sleep. REM deprivation is something that is associated with problems with memory, work performance and feelings of decreased quality of life.
Sleep deprivation can take different tolls on different people. While some people feel the effects right away, others may never feel a difference.
“If I miss an hour or so of sleep for a day, I feel nothing,” said sophomore computer science major Zachary Dunn. “If I miss four to six hours, I feel generally tired for a day and if I get three or less hours of sleep I feel unsteady, slow, tired and my reaction time is cut. If I ever go for several days with this pattern I will almost fall asleep while driving, even while blasting music. I definitely feel more intelligent when I have sleep for several days.”
Sleep deprivation can be a result of a variety of causes, from psychological factors such as stress and depression to lifestyle choices such as drinking caffeinated beverages or exercising right before sleeping. But sleep deprivation can also be a symptom of a much more serious condition.
“In the last year, 427 students were diagnosed with insomnia,” said Dr. David Teller, associate director for medical services at Beutel Health Center.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is often characterized by a person’s inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. It can be a temporary health issue or a chronic disorder. Students who have difficulty falling asleep three nights a week are advised by Student Health Services to talk to a physician.
“It’s not a normal thing to be diagnosed with,” Teller said. “We try not to place them on medication for that. First we tell them to adjust their lifestyle, eat well and exercise. We try not to put people on sleeping pills because they are pretty addictive.”
Feeling fatigued during the day is a common reality for most college students. Stress related to schoolwork and relationships are some of the common factors that keep students awake at night. There are many steps students can take to better ensure their chances of a good night’s sleep.
Some of these tips include maintaining a regular bedtime and wake up schedule, finish eating at least two hours before bedtime and exercising earlier in the day.
Improving sleep habits cannot only improve a student’s level of energy throughout the day, it can also improve a student’s health, disposition and grade point average. However, some students believe the risks outweigh the benefits.
“I see it that if I sleep eight hours a day, then that’s one-third of my life I’m going to spend in bed,” Manning said. “I don’t know if I want that, especially when I’m in college.”