College students among most sleep-deprived in nation

William Evans

Sleep consumes about one third of an average person’s life, but there’s nothing average about pulling an all-nighter to write a paper in college. Research suggests college students are among the most sleep-deprived groups in the nation.

Transitioning from high school to college can disrupt a student’s sleeping pattern, creating an unhealthy habit of sleep deprivation for the sake of academic performance.

“I think that the potential for being independent, for most students, for the first time ever and not having mom and dad to direct their schedule has an effect,” said Michelle Harcrow, assistant director of health education and promotion for the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness in the Student Health Center. “The increased opportunities for social commitments and the option for students to hang out with friends in residence halls can detract from a college student’s sleep.”

The University of Alabama has a multifaceted support network for incoming freshmen that inlcudes college advisors, student organizations and freshman seminars designed to introduce students to the Capstone.

The abundance of commitments can backfire, however, on students who have yet to learn their limits.

“As students are here longer, they continue to commit themselves,” she said. “The more commitments you have, the less time you have to rest.”

Study habits have to be adapted to a college-sized course load that differs from high school in terms of pace and quantity.

Rather than spoon-feeding students a familiar sequence of daily grades and quizzes to pace them through courses, college professors hold their pupils responsible for pacing themselves, which can eat into an unadjusted student’s sleeping schedule.

“In recognizing how college is formatted, study habits have to be established to where you can keep up,” Harcrow said.

All-night study binges can be effective for a last-ditch recourse to pass a test but should not be used as a consistent crutch, she said.

Student athletes, in particular, should be wary of upsetting their sleeping schedule because of the potential for the injuries they could sustain.

“The more physically active you are, the more energy you expend,” she said. “There is more activity at the cellular level that needs more recovery for athletes. Rebuilding your energy is crucial for muscular development and repair.”

Lack of sleep can also lead to weight gain.

“When you get a good night’s sleep, you feel better and are maximizing brain function and energy levels,” said Sheena Quizon, a dietitian in the Student Health Center. “How well you sleep can depend on what you eat. When you are sleep-deprived, this can affect your level of eating, because sleep deprivation alters the hormones that tell us when to be hungry and when we feel full, thus leading to overeating at times.”

Daniel Perez, a junior majoring in general business, said he has learned to remedy his lack of sleep by steering clear of late-night socializing.

He said the many activities available in college ate into his sleeping schedule as a freshman.

“You’ve got more things to do, so you stay up later,” he said. “You find yourself finding a lot more people to hang out with, and it’s not until you start doing bad in school that you begin to change your sleeping habits.”