November 18, 2014

Sleep and the college student

Cramming for exams, research, work, even late-night parties — there are many things that compete for a college student's time and sleep is often the first thing to go. But getting an adequate amount of sleep is important for a student's overall health and well-being.

On average, a young adult should get eight to nine hours of sleep. When a person experiences a chronic lack of adequate sleep, there can be numerous and sometimes significant side effects, including:

  • Mood issues such as irritability and frustration

  • Difficulty concentrating, impaired memory, creativity and organizational skills

  • Impulse control — individuals are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors such as drinking or driving fast

  • Impaired driving — driving while drowsy is associated with more than 300,000 traffic accidents every year

  • Obesity — a lack of sleep can lead the body to crave more calorically dense foods as well as increased insulin resistance

Good sleep habits can help ensure students get the rest they need. While it can be difficult in a college setting, it's important to try and stay on a regular sleep schedule — going to bed and waking at the same time. While there may be a temptation to stay up late and sleep late on the weekends, ideally the schedule shouldn't vary by more than an hour. Additional suggestions for maintaining a good sleep schedule include:

  • Limit naps to no more than 30 minutes, and preferably in the early afternoon

  • Avoid caffeine after 2 p.m. The stimulating effects of caffeine can wear off much sooner than the effects on sleep. So, even if a person feels tired, the caffeine may prevent him or her from falling asleep.

  • Avoid substances like smoking, alcohol and drugs.

  • Turn off electronic devices including phones, computers, tables and TVs. The light level from these devices can affect the bodies' internal sleep clock and make it difficult to fall asleep.