Most, if not all of us, have experienced the feeling of waking up for class and immediately wanting to go back to sleep. We’ve felt the headache, the heaviness of our eyes and the sheer unwillingness to want to face the day ahead. Many of us subsist only on the caffeine provided in coffee and energy drinks. And this is usually because we were unable to get a good night’s sleep and are paying the price for that.
Getting a good night’s sleep — which, for adolescents our age usually constitutes seven to nine hours of sleep — is immensely important for our physical and mental health. However, with college students taking an average of four classes, participating in extracurricular activities, working and having a social life, getting this much sleep is practically impossible.
The way the college environment currently operates is not conducive to maintaining healthy sleep habits, nor mental and physical health. The importance of a proper night’s sleep is often overlooked, when in fact, this should never happen.
According to a 2014 study, 50% of college students report daytime sleepiness and 70% of college students attain an insufficient amount of sleep per night. The consequences of improper sleep habits include lower academic performance, compromised learning and mood changes.
These consequences are likely things most of us have empirically observed, from falling asleep in class to forgetting what you studied during an all-nighter. For students who have longer commutes to campus, sleep deprivation can be even more dangerous, as they are at a higher risk of getting into car accidents.
Unfortunately, with many of the stressors in college, proper sleep is one of the first things students sacrifice. When most students have exams or assignments, they’ll stay up late or wake up extremely early to get it done because there really is no alternative — it’s almost impossible to give something else up when we do not have enough time or leniency from professors to change our habits.
Sleep needs to be valued more than it currently is, especially in the college environment, where so many of us do not get adequate sleep each night and face many negative consequences as a result.
In addition to the aforementioned consequences of a lack of proper sleep, there are also possible long-term health concerns that may arise. A 2019 study showed a connection between lack of sleep and symptoms of depression. Insufficient sleep was connected to a greater likelihood of: feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, exhausted, lonely and anxious; it was also linked to the desire to self-harm and have a depressed mood. Being in college, where academics, moving away from a familiar environment and making new friends all contribute to stress, students are already at greater risk mental health problems. The detrimental effects of not getting enough sleep exacerbate these already prominent stressors.
A lack of sleep also has significant long-term effects on physical health. Not getting enough sleep is linked to a build-up of the amyloid-beta plaque, which is found in many patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic sleep deprivation is also linked to heart disease and other heart problems, such as hypertension and hypercholesterolemia.
These consequences are not meant to scare people into getting enough sleep, but rather to call attention to this problem. Given all the negative impacts a lack of sleep has on both mental and physical health, it is imperative for people to understand how important getting a proper amount of sleep is.
It is next to impossible for individuals to make these changes themselves because, as I said earlier, the college environment actively contributes to our lack of sleep. College in general should be more conducive to healthier sleep habits. Necessary changes include, but are not limited to, increased leniency of class attendance and assignment submissions in order to encourage better sleep habits, as well as more awareness of both the benefits of adequate sleep and the consequences of sleep deprivation.