Are you getting enough sleep? Most adults require seven to nine hours of nightly sleep for optimal function; however, you don’t need to know this statistic to be painfully aware of any deficits. While acute lack of sleep causes temporary physical and cognitive impairment, leading to difficulty concentrating and memorizing information, chronic lack of sleep can have serious consequences.
Consistent sleep deprivation can lead to a tolerance of sorts, causing a person to become unaware of the impact their sleep deficits are having on their brain and body. Lack of sleep has been linked to an increased risk for serious medical conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Lack of sleep is also known to exacerbate mental health conditions. For example, poor sleep is one of the most common triggers of a manic episode in people with bipolar disorder, which can be life-threatening depending on the severity of a given individual’s condition.
Despite the severity of these concerns, the culture of college and the workforce has historically blatantly ignored the importance of sleep and strongarmed people into a lifestyle of chronic sleep deprivation in order to keep up with everyone else, even though well-rested students and employees are ultimately the most productive. In college, staying up late every night to study or pulling an all-nighter to finish a project is considered the norm. It’s part of the lifestyle, older adults have told me. Your body is young and can handle it.
Virtually no one is going to die from one all-nighter, but are college students really thriving? Around 1,100 college students commit suicide each year, making it the second leading cause of death amongst this demographic. Around 12% of college students report the occurrence of suicidal ideations at some point in their university career. Students who must work long hours or care for family members in addition to attending school are more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation, causing them to fall behind academically, further cementing socioeconomic divisions as a degree is often (although not always) needed for higher-paying jobs. Ultimately, everyone suffers from a system that does not have their best interests in mind, but at the end of the day it is minority groups, be it by mental health condition, class or ethnicity, who are weeded out without the needed advocacy to make positive change.
Why should the culture of college deem sleep deprivation as “quirky” or even a badge of honor, signifying one who has worked hard and pushed themselves to the breaking point without tipping over the edge? Why must learning occur on a tightrope, with assignments on one side and physical and mental health on the other?
Resources need to be provided to educate students about the importance of maintaining a manageable course load. More funding needs to be provided to mental health organizations on campus, and if a student has a mental health condition that cannot be treated at this level of care, they must be provided the resources to contact professionals outside the school. Change should also be done on a class-by-class basis, educating professors about the impact of sleep deprivation on students’ health and holding them accountable to assigning tasks in reasonable increments.
Creating a daily routine and committing to a specific bedtime can help maintain good sleep hygiene. Figuring out what is getting in the way of doing assignments early will benefit not only your sleep but also the amount of free time in your waking hours. Reaching out for help if you are unable to fit sleep into your schedule, be that through the Centers for Students with Disabilities, individual professors or a therapist, might ultimately save your life down the road. A test the next day seems more pressing than long-term physical and mental health, but bad habits always catch up to us. A resume is a piece of paper. You are worth way more than that.