Students have busy schedules that often cause them to shortchange themselves on a necessity: sleep. Cheating sleep, however, is like borrowing money – and those who are borrowing will eventually have to pay back the accrued debt.
According to a 2001 study published in the Journal of American College Health, only 11 percent of college students are getting the sleep they need, and 73 percent of college students reported having occasional sleep problems. Unsurprisingly, students who lack sleep tend to perform significantly worse than students who are getting quality sleep.
College students are notorious for pulling all-nighters and staying out late.
“I usually get about six hours of sleep on an average weeknight. My usual reasons for losing sleep are because I’m up doing homework, out with friends or cramming for exams,” freshman communications major Amanda Wintenburg said.
“I’m sure I’d be a lot more friendly and happy if I got more sleep, but it’s just not possible right now.”
But pulling an all-nighter isn’t something to be proud of. According to Brown University’s Student Health Services Web site, students who stay up all night studying for an exam will store the information in their short-term memory but may not retain it when it comes time to take a final or cumulative test.
Students commuting to class can run into serious danger when sleep-deprived. Not getting enough sleep can impair one’s ability to drive. A 1996 Senate Appropriations Committee report found that more than 40,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths each year are from car accidents in which a driver suffered from sleep deprivation.
Lack of sleep is all too typical in this nation. There is always some form of activity going on. Many Americans are guilty of taking on too much, especially college students who often juggle part- or full-time jobs with a full-time education.
“Americans’ sleep debt is worse than our financial debt. We live in a 24-hour society,” said William Kohler, medical director of The Sleep Institute in Spring Hill and an assistant professor of neurology.
Students deprived of sleep often find it difficult to function the next day.
“Students who don’t get enough sleep are often tired and unable to concentrate. The short-term effects of losing sleep are drowsiness, irritability and not being able to focus on complicated tasks,” Kohler said.
Sophomore Brittany Shatsar knows how lack of sleep affects her.
“If I had more sleep, I wouldn’t come home in the middle of the day and take a nap; I would get my papers done earlier and I wouldn’t feel so run down,” Shatsar said.
Lack of sleep is especially harmful when the brain is trying to process complex information, and sleep debt can become increasingly detrimental when it is continual.
“Students taking classes in math and science especially will feel the effects of lack of sleep because the brain is less able to comprehend this kind of complex material when sleep deprived,” Kohler said. “Long-term effects of lack of sleep can include weight gain, insomnia and depression-like symptoms.”
When lacking sleep, the brain will do anything it can to remedy the problem.
“The more sleep deprived you are, the more pressure your brain puts on your body to sleep,” said Anna Barker, manager of the Sleep Disorder Center at USF.
“There is also something called microsleeps. These are periods of time in which a person is actually asleep during a wake period. It doesn’t appear as if the person is asleep, but if that person’s brain functions were to be monitored, the results would show that they are indeed in a period of sleep.”
Students can change their sleep habits by getting on a regular sleep schedule to help the body achieve quality rest. According to the National Sleep Foundation, people have a sleep cycle that is regulated by a circadian clock in the brain. This internal clock maintains a rhythmic pattern in the body in order to balance the amount of sleep and wake time.
“Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but everyone is different,” Barker said. “Students should go to bed when sleepy and wake up when they’re no longer tired. It takes the body about 14 days to get on a regular sleep cycle.”
Limiting caffeine, smoking and alcohol throughout the day can help in achieving improved sleep habits.
“Caffeine and other stimulants interfere with sleep and should only be consumed in the early morning. Alcohol is a useful aid for falling asleep quickly, but it’s actually a stimulant because it keeps the body from achieving the deeper stage of sleep known as REM. Someone who’s been drinking is more likely to wake up later on in the night,” Kohler said. “Pay attention to how well you’re functioning during the daytime. This will be a good indicator of how much sleep your body needs.”
However, it is possible to make up for lost sleep.
“You can’t make up for all of it, but your body will try its best to make up for the sleep you’ve lost,” Kohler said. “Getting extra rest on the weekends and taking naps are ways in which the body will try to make up for lost sleep.”
For students concerned about their sleep patterns, the National Sleep Foundation Web site Sleepfoundation.org, has a quick quiz known as the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.
“The scale will tell you if you’re getting the right amount of sleep and is grossly accurate,” Barker said.