Are Your Sleeping Habits Harmful?

Megan Hansler

It’s Thursday morning, and your alarm is ringing. You slowly roll over, turn it off and fall back to sleep.

Finally, you wake up and realize you’re late for your first class. No one will care if you skip brushing your teeth just this once, right? Somehow you make it through the professor’s lecture and head off to meet a friend for lunch.

After lunch, there’s some time to take a nap before your next class. It feels good to catch some Zs in your free time, and you have no problem getting to your 3 p.m. class. However, the 75 minutes drag on, and you can barely keep your eyes open. Thank goodness that the day is almost over and tomorrow is Friday. You get dinner and do some work. A friend invites you over to watch TV, and you figure you’ll only stay for a little while. But watching TV leads to video games and a movie; and, suddenly, it’s 2 a.m., and you have to get up in five hours. “That should be enough sleep,” you tell yourself. You’re in college, who needs sleep?

The truth is, everyone needs sleep, especially college students. If you can relate to this scenario or find yourself feeling drowsy during the day, the reality is that you aren’t getting enough sleep. It has been proven that the average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. Only 15 percent of teenagers reported sleeping the required amount on a typical week night. Therefore, it is not surprising that sleep deprivation is a problem that is particularly common among college students who are often up late studying or socializing.

A lack of sleep has a much stronger impact on people’s lives than one might expect. Research has shown that sleep deprivation can cause impaired memory and thought processes, depression and a weakened immune system. For students struggling to balance academics, a social life and his or her own health, the value of sleep should be given high priority.

Decreased alertness is the most noticeable result of sleep deprication impacting students’ everyday lives. Falling asleep in class, forgetting to complete assignments and failing to remember important information during a test are all symptomatic of sleep deprivation. Many college students don’t get enough sleep because they stay up late working on papers or studying for tests. However, despite their good intentions, when students stay up late, it only hurts their chances of being successful academically.

With the decreased energy and focus that comes with a lack of sleep, students will inevitably struggle to learn as effectively as they would with a sufficient amount of sleep. Sleep allows the body and mind to rest and refuel. When enough time is dedicated to sleep, the mind is rejuvenated and can think more clearly, making learning much easier. Also, sleep-deprived students are more likely to oversleep and miss class or fall asleep during class. In both of these cases, the students miss out on important information, and this is detrimental to their performance in the class.

Perhaps a less obvious way that sleep deprivation impacts students’ lives occurs socially. Moodiness, impatience and depression are all associated with a lack of sleep and can cause significant damage on friendships, relationships and the overall quality of a student’s life. If students don’t get enough sleep, they will be too tired to participate in extracurricular activities, limiting their chances of meeting new people.

Also, a lack of sleep leads to impatience and, therefore, a greater likelihood for conflict with classmates, friends, parents or a significant other.

Depression is another major consequence of sleep deprivation. In 2006, the National Sleep Foundation conducted a study on adolescents which found that 73 percent of individuals who reported feeling unhappy also reported not getting enough sleep. Although depression is a serious medical condition and is usually indicative of a more serious issue, it is also true that fatigue contributes greatly to feelings of unhappiness. For many students, not getting enough sleep leads to stress, which contributes to feelings of helplessness and unhappiness. By allowing their bodies enough time to rest, students can improve their social lives and their overall quality of life.

In addition to harming students academically and socially, a lack of sleep also poses a threat to students’ health. One of the main reasons sleep is so valuable to college students is the impact that sleep has on the body’s ability to fight off illness. In the college environment, viruses spread quickly, and it is difficult to function on a normal student schedule when feeling ill. Lack of sleep greatly weakens the body’s immune system, so it is much more likely for a student to get sick if he or she isn’t getting enough sleep.

The body uses sleep as a time to rest and heal. Without this opportunity to rejuvenate, the body becomes susceptible to sickness. Stress is another consequence of not getting enough sleep and, as many college students experience, stress can also have a damaging effect on one’s health.

One of the main mistakes that people make in trying to solve their sleeping problems is taking advantage of caffeine’s effects on the body. Although caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, soda and energy drinks, will give a quick burst of energy, this short-term solution will ultimately hurt more than it helps. Consuming caffeine does not make up for the sleep that was lost and the more you depend on caffeine, the harder it will be to develop a healthy sleeping pattern.

Napping is another common solution, but a bad one, that many students use to compensate for their lack of sleep. Naps that last 15 to 20 minutes can be beneficial, but sleep that lasts any longer than this during the middle of the day causes the body to feel more tired than it did before. Frequent napping will also make it harder for you to fall asleep at night.

Finally, do not do homework or study while sitting on your bed. Although this is difficult for college students who do not have very much space in their rooms, doing work while sitting in bed causes you to associate your bed with work. This connection will keep you distracted when you are trying to fall asleep at night. It is important that your body is relaxed and comfortable when you go to bed, otherwise you won’t benefit from the value of a good night’s sleep.