Sleep Tight + Shine Bright At School

by YOON SYUK JUN

 

There’s one important thing that students lose more and more of as they proceed to higher levels of education: sleep. As students make the transition from high school to college, their workload skyrockets. In the midst of their academic struggles, they often end up sacrificing their sleep hours and, as a result, become vulnerable to sleep deprivation and its related health problems. About 30% of Americans report some type of sleep problem, and a similar percentage of college students are at risk of a sleep disorder and, as research suggests, resulting academic failure. [1] As discussed in this article, sleep is a crucial factor that affects physical and mental health. Regular, adequate sleep is a must for both personal well-being and academic success.

 

common sleep problems

insomnia & sleep apnea

Common sleep problems include not falling asleep, not staying asleep, and waking up irregularly. These problems all fall under the category of insomnia. [2] People suffering from insomnia wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble going back to sleep. They feel tired even when they wake up later than usual. Another type of insomnia is an early morning awakening. It is characterized by a symptom of waking up early, usually about 2 hours or more early. [17]  Early awakening reduces the total sleep time and may cause excessive sleepiness during the day and fatigue. Sleep apnea is another common sleep problem that is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. [3] Sleep apnea is not so prevalent among college students, but it’s widespread among middle-aged men.

excessive daytime sleepiness & chronic fatigue

Another common problem is excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) resulting from reduced sleep time or loss of sleep. [1] Students suffering from EDS feel sleepy and drowsy during the day, but not at night. Repeated nights of sleep deprivation may also cause chronic fatigue, which could bring about further sleep problems. [4, 12] Chronic fatigue syndrome is a severe type of fatigue that interferes with daily life. It often entails reduced concentration, problems with short-term memory, sleep disorders, and muscular pain. [3]

 

causes of sleep problems

stress

Stress is one of the main causes of sleep disorders. In a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2003, insomniacs reported significantly higher levels of stress compared to healthy individuals. Furthermore, people with sleep disorders reported a higher level of arousal before sleep. Interestingly, even though insomniacs and healthy individuals reported a similar number of stressful events, the intensity of stress experienced was higher among insomniacs. It was concluded that the way people approach and deal with stressful events contributes more to insomnia than the number of stressful events they encounter. [5]

electronics

Another factor that affects students more than any other group is the use of electronics, especially cell phones. With the development of electronic devices, the Internet, and social media, people spend more and more time looking at bright electronic screens. [14] Research suggests that heavy use of electronic devices, including televisions, computers, and cell phones, causes sleep disturbances and shortened sleep times. Adults playing computer games lose quality of sleep because their rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep is shortened. Entering and maintaining REM sleep is pivotal for protein synthesis. Furthermore, using cell phones in the evening may affect the production of melatonin, a hormone crucial in triggering sleep. [14] To learn more about how your cell phone may affect your sleep, read the Q&A in Volume 16, Issue 2.

cognition & fatigue

Other factors contributing to sleep problems include cognition and fatigue. Cognition is an important factor in insomnia. Intrusive thoughts, which are ideas or images that are unpleasant and difficult to manage, are prominent in people suffering from insomnia. People with sleep problems spend their waiting time for sleep occupied by intrusive thoughts. [6] Lastly, chronic fatigue, as mentioned earlier, could also lead to sleep problems. [4]

 

relationship between sleep and academic success

sleep deprivation and school performance

Although many college students have irregular sleep cycles, there is an important reason why you should never overlook your sleep problems. Research has shown that there is a link between sleep and academic success, as reflected by GPA assessments, suggesting that sleep problems may take a toll on performance in school. This is a significant finding because many students from grade school to university actually experience “chronic” sleep deprivation and have poor sleep quality. [7] Chronic sleep deprivation implies that loss of sleep occurs continually and has been occurring for a long time, worsening the sleep problem.

wake-up time and GPA

Several correlations have been found between sleep and GPA. For example, delays in regular wake-up time are correlated with decreases in GPA. A 2010 study published in the Journal of American College Health concluded that wake-up time was the most influential factor in the GPA of college students, among other sleep-related factors and elements such as mood, stress, gender, and age. [10] Another study in Sleep Medicine Reviews in 2006 supports the idea that regular wake-up time is important by exposing the relationship between wake-up time and the ability to recall complex material. They are inversely related, indicating that irregular wake-up times may worsen students’ memory. [7]

sleep and academic potential

College students suffering from lack of sleep are not just at risk of performing poorly in class, but also at risk of limiting their academic capacity. When given a math test, college students who had less sleep were more likely to choose easier problems, which suggests that chronically sleep deprived students limit their options to easier ones below their full potential. [1]

 

sleep problems and mental health

Academic performance is one of the most important concerns of a student’s life. However, maintaining a high GPA is not the only reason for college students to keep good sleep habits. Sleep disorders not only hurt academic performance, but also deteriorate mental health. [1] A 2016 study published in PLoS One suggested that there is a link between loss of sleep and development of mental health issues among college students. It has been found that lack of sleep may have serious consequences, including depression, anxiety, poor social relationships, and delinquent behavior, such as careless driving. [1] This impact on mental health is significant, not just because it can affects grades, but also because it can affect daily activities and cause serious accidents.

 

sleep problems and physical health

obesity

Quite intuitively, sleep patterns are also closely linked to physical health. Obesity, a major disease in the United States, is also inversely related to sleep duration. [11] In a 2011 study published in Sleep Medicine, higher rates of obesity are correlated with shorter sleep duration. In a 2010 study in Sleep, researchers found that short sleep duration is linked to hypercholesterolemia, or high cholesterol levels in the blood. [17] Sleep problems have been found to play a role in fat build-up. Thus, achieving and maintaining good sleep is crucial to leading a healthy lifestyle.

 

coping with sleep disorders

managing stress

For students suffering from sleep disorders, there are several professional and conventional methods for managing sleep. College students who face stress from academic load, work, and social relationships need to control their stress levels effectively. How one manages stress is more important than how many stressful events one encounters, in the context of preventing insomnia. [5] In order to manage stress and treat sleep problems, counseling is often recommended. Psychological counseling and therapies could be very helpful for people with severe sleep disorders.

things to avoid

There are a few things to avoid to get a good night’s sleep. These include electronics, loud noise (like music), alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. [15, 16] Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants that interrupt regular sleeping cycles, so they should be avoided in order to maintain good sleep habits. Furthermore, trying to make up for sleep lost during the weekdays on the weekend actually worsens sleep problems, so getting enough sleep on a regular basis is important. [1]

 

bottom line

Recent studies have provided a large body of evidence suggesting that sleep quality and duration are very important factors in maintaining good physical and mental health. In addition, they have shown that by maintaining proper sleep habits, students can maintain strong academic performance. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that college students try to get a good night’s sleep. Students should avoid electronics, coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes prior to sleep and should lead a balanced lifestyle, including eating, studying, and sleeping regularly to ensure high quality sleep.

 

References ▾

  1. “The Prevalence of Sleep Disorders in College Students: Impact on Academic Performance.” J Am Coll Health. (2010).
  2. “Characteristics of insomnia in the United States: results of the 1991 National Sleep Foundation Survey. I.” Sleep. (1999).
  3. “What Is Sleep Apnea?” nih.gov. (2012).
  4. “The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Comprehensive Approach to Its Definition and Study.” Ann Intern Med. (1994).
  5. “Role of Stress, Arousal, and Coping Skills in Primary Insomnia.” Psychosom Med. (2003).
  6. “Articulatory suppression and the treatment of insomnia.” Behav Res Ther. (1991).
  7. “Sleep loss, learning capacity and academic performance.” Sleep Med Rev. (2006).
  8. “Sleep and Mental Health in Undergraduate Students with Generally Healthy Sleep Habits.” Plos One. (2016).
  9. “Sleep Schedules and Daytime Functioning in Adolescents.” Child Dev. (1998).
  10. “Health-Related Variables and Academic Performance Among First-Year College Students: Implications for Sleep and Other Behaviors.” J Am Coll Health. (2010).
  11. “Associations of sleep duration with obesity and serum lipid profile in children and adolescents.” Sleep Med. (2011).
  12. “Relationships between sleep, physical activity and human health.” Physiol Behav. (2007).
  13. “Adolescent Use of Mobile Phones for Calling and for Sending Text Messages After Lights Out: Results from a Prospective Cohort Study with a One-Year Follow-Up.” Sleep. (2007).
  14. “Sleep and use of electronic devices in adolescence: results from a large population-based study” BMJ Open. (2015).
  15. “Coping With Sleep Loss: Tips for a Brighter Day” webmd.com. (2007).
  16. “Short sleep duration as a risk factor for hypercholesterolemia: analyses of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.” Sleep. (2010).
  17. “The Treatment of Early-Morning Awakening Insomnia With 2 Evenings of Bright Light” Sleep. (2005).