College and University Blog

Sleep Deprivation - A Common Occurrence for College Students

Many of us are familiar with the after effects of a night or two without sleep. Without sleep, we are less efficient and more irritable. It may even become difficult to think clearly. 63% of college students do not get enough sleep, according to a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation. Obviously, Sleep deprivation is a way of life for most students, especially during exam times. 15% percent of college students admit that they fall asleep in class. Students who studied hard all week and then stayed up all night partying on the weekend lost as much as 30% of what they had learned during the week. This is not a problem only seen in college students. Much of society suffers to some extent from sleep deprivation.

Most students do not get enough sleep because their sleep hours changed based on their workload. Other reasons students don’t sleep include stress, roommates, or miscellaneous noise. Most students don’t realize they are lacking sleep. It comes out in other ways – frequent illnesses, general fatigue, increased anxiety and impaired concentration and memory retrieval. When students are asked how much sleep they get, they don’t realize that they get sleep deprivation in little bits. They get 3 hours of sleep one night, 5 the next, 4 the next night. Night after night of this takes its toll. Sleep deprivation can lead to sleep apnea, a breathing disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea affects as many as 18 million Americans.

If you are sleep deprived, you may notice one or more of these signs:

  • Eyelids feel heavy
  • Dozing off while reading, watching television or sitting in meetings or class
  • Slow thinking and reaction time
  • Difficulty concentrating or understanding directions
  • Forgetfulness, frequent errors or mistakes
  • Poor attentiveness or judgment in changing and/or complex situations
  • Difficulty in solving problems
  • Moodiness
  • Depression
  • Negativity
  • Irritability
  • Impatience

The best way to overcome lack of sleep is to practice good sleep hygiene. The Northern Indiana Center for Sleep Medicine suggests the following:

  • Set a regular schedule to go to bed and get up.
  • Allow enough time to sleep, usually about eight hours.
  • Sleep in the same room and bed every night.
  • Keep the bedroom free of noise and disruptions like phones and TV.
  • Use the bed only for sleeping and sex.
  • Turn your clock so you can’t see it. Watching the clock can keep you awake.
  • Don’t eat, drink alcohol or smoke for two or three hours before you go to bed.
  • Drink a glass of milk when you retire.
  • Get some exercise during the day.
  • Try reading or listening to a relaxation tape at bedtime.
  • If you wake up during the night, avoid bright lights.
  • Avoid long naps during the day

Other suggestions from the Sleep Diagnostic Clinic at Stanford include:

  • Sleep only when sleepy.
  • If you can’t sleep, get up and do something boring.
  • Develop sleep rituals to let your body know it’s time to unwind and relax.
  • Take a hot bath 90 minutes before bedtime.
  • Use sunlight in the morning to set or reset your biological clock.

In extreme cases, prolonged sleep deprivation can produce hallucinations and even death. These situations are extreme and not often seen, but possible due to a weakened immune system. The number of white blood cells within the body decreases, as does the activity of the remaining white blood cells. The body also decreases the amount of growth hormone produced. The ability of the body to metabolize sugar declines, turning sugar into fat. One study stated that people who sleep less than four hours per night are three times more likely to die within the next six years The longest a human has remained awake was eleven days. In the lab, rats that are continually deprived of sleep die within two to five weeks. This is generally due to their severely weakened immune system.