Getting enough quality sleep is a tough but important lesson for college students.
If you’re the parent of a young person who headed to college this fall, you’ve probably already had talks with your youngster about the dangers of too much late night partying and the pitfalls of drink and drugs. But there’s another subject that deserves discussion because it can also impact your son or daughter’s ability to do well at school — getting enough sleep.
Away from the watchful eyes of parents, college students finally have the freedom to stay up as late as they want and to skip going to bed at all some nights. So trying to convince them to buckle down to a reasonable sleep schedule may sound hopeless. However, it’s worth the effort.
Even though it’s a tough lesson to learn, the importance of getting enough good quality sleep can be the key to better grades and better health, now and long after college graduation, according to Aneesa Das, MD, assistant director of the Ohio State University sleep medicine program.
“A bad night’s sleep or chronically not getting enough sleep can affect every aspect of our lives,” Das said. “It can affect how we perform in school, our immunity, and our emotions. When we’re tired, we’re more prone to infections, more likely to get into arguments and less likely to participate in activities we enjoy.”
Developing bad slumber habits as college students can have a life-long impact because chronic lack of sleep raises the risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, Das added. Putting off studying and pulling an “all-nighter” to make up for procrastination, or in the mistaken belief they can somehow cram all the information they need for an exam into their heads during the eight hours they would normally be sleeping, is one way students hurt their ability to do well in college.
“When you are sleep-deprived, you don’t think as clearly. Staying up all night to study can backfire and affect performance on exams,” said Das, who frequently meets with Ohio State University students to explain why sleep is important and what steps they can take to get enough shut-eye.
If young people are determined to stay up all night to study, she urges them to get a good night’s sleep before and after their all-nighter, although a regular sleep schedule is the healthiest practice and making up for sleep loss the night before is not.
Das has more tips to help college students deal with noisy roommates and other sleep distractions. For example, students should turn TVs, computers, tablets, and phones off when they go to bed because these devices emit a sleep disrupting blue light. If a roommate needs to stay up to study, the sleeping student should use eyeshades.
Getting regular physical exercise during the day, but not too close to bed time, promotes better quality of sleep at night, Das explained. She also suggests students put studies aside and spend about half an hour resting quietly before going to bed. As soon as the alarm goes off in the morning, turning on a bright light or basking in sunshine can help shake off groggy feelings and boost alertness for 8 a.m. classes.
Das cautions students who have a hard time sleeping or feeling alert during the day not to rely on sleeping pills at night and excessive caffeine to perk up for classes. Instead, medication and too much coffee simply cover up the fact a young person has a chronic sleep problem. While naps can help, they should not last longer than half an hour and should end before 4 p.m., according to Das. Otherwise, naps can disrupt the regular night time sleep cycle.
There are plenty of reasons why college students shouldn’t participate in binge drinking, and a new study has added sleep problems to the list. Eliza Van Reen, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, and colleagues studied the drinking activities of 878 freshman students, finding the more alcohol they consumed, the more likely they were to stay up late, delay sleep, and not stick to sleep schedules.
April 08, 2020
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA