College is a stressful time for most students with having to learn how to manage their time. The stress can cause all sorts of problems health-wise, with sleep deprivation being one of them.
When many students get to college, it is the first time they are on their own. There are no parents around to enforce rules, to make sure homework gets done or to make sure they get sleep.
The Residents Hall Director for Scanlon Hall and Campus Counselor, Jamie Exline, has firsthand experience seeing the students in the dorms and has observed students not getting enough sleep.
“College students don’t get sleep. Freshman especially- all their friends are hanging out til 2 or 3 am. They have those social phobias and they don’t want to miss cool stories,” Exline said.
Coming to college is an exciting time, but nothing should be worth losing much needed sleep over.
One of the biggest contributors to losing sleep is anxiety. Many students struggle with it as they adjust to college life. Exline has noticed that when students are not organized they develop anxiety and suggests they do something to fix it.
“Mapping out your day, staying organized and understanding what time management means. To actually sit down and figure out what that means for them. That helps a lot with helping them sleep,” Exline said.
The Resident Assistants Exline supervises are some of the busiest students on campus. Managing classes and RA work can be exhausting, and Exline always talks to them about taking care of themselves.
“I do talk with them about self care. I encourage them too and teach them about meditation and exercising. Basically just taking care of themselves; they do so much. Its important to build those habits now before you become professionals,” Exline said.
Online Statistics and Recommendations
There are a lot of suggestions on the internet and from medical professionals when it comes to good sleep habits to develop. One of the most common suggestions is to get into a schedule.
When you have a nightly routine to follow, your body and mind realize that it is time to wind down and sleep. Most internet sites say that keeping it consistent is very important.
Other suggestions include cutting back on screen time, meaning electric devices such as cell phones, TV or computers. The brightness from the devices keep your brain active. A better alternative would be a book.
Taking too long of a nap is also discouraged. Napping for too long or too late in the day will make it harder to fall asleep when it comes time to go to bed for the night.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Seven out of ten adults in the United States say they experience stress or anxiety daily, and most say it interferes at least moderately with their lives… Seven out of ten of those adults say they have trouble sleeping.”
One of the biggest, but overlooked things is avoiding caffeine later in the day. There are many foods and beverages that people don’t even realize have caffeine in them such as chocolate or tea.
Many students will drink coffee or energy drinks in order to stay up later to study or finish homework, but what they don’t realize is the long term damage they are doing to their sleep cycle.
Recommendations from Professionals
The counselors on campus see a lot of students due to anxiety or depression. Sleep deprivation often goes hand in hand with both of those issues.
Harold “Dave” Brown, the Director of Counseling at Missouri Western, spoke about how important sleep is for a college student.
“Sleep is essential. If you’re not getting proper sleep it effects every part of your being from your physical health, spiritual health and mental health, so sleep is essential. Particularly college students, because they are in a situation just by the very definition of college; it’s a high stress situation and you’ve got to be able to sleep in order to replenish, revitalize and recharge,” Brown said.
When someone is suffering from anxiety they might not know it immediately. Symptoms are what lead to a diagnosis, and sleep is an early indicator.
“Often times when they complain about sleep it is a symptom of something else. Sleep is probably one of the first things affected by a person’s psyche and by their mental make up. If you’re not healthy and you’re not well, sleep is one of the first things that can be affected,” Brown said.
Brown went on to explain how the lack of sleep can physically affect a person.
“It has been shown that when you deprive a person of REM sleep over the course of several days they begin to hallucinate, they begin to have delusions and they see things that aren’t there, because your mind craves that opportunity to shut down, go on automatic pilot and work out the processes of the day. And if you don’t give your brain the opportunity to do that it can affect it profoundly,” Brown said.
Students often go to the Student Health Center when they are feeling the effects of anxiety. Marti Burri, the registered nurse on campus, says that a lack of sleep can negatively affect your body.
“The immune system goes down and you get sick easier [when you don’t sleep],” Burri said.
The Nurse Practitioner Beth Roderick says that it is very common for students to come see her for anxiety reasons.
“Sometimes if it’s not that severe we will refer them to the counseling center and sometimes the counseling center can give them some relaxation techniques. It might just be as simple as reminding them of sleep hygiene, healthy diet and exercise,” Roderick said.
Roderick noted that during big testing times on campus she sees an influx of students due to anxiety and sleep deprivation.
“This time of year and during finals I see a lot of anxiety and trouble sleeping because people are cramming for finals or midterms and they’re drinking monster and other energy drinks. They come in and their heart rate is over 100 and they’re bouncing off the walls,” Roderick said.
In a Twitter survey, 24 college students answered how many hours of sleep they get on week nights and whether or not they use supplements to fall asleep.
Out of those surveyed, 83 percent said that they get between 5-8 hours of sleep. 8 percent say they get between 3-5 hours, 5 percent say they get 8-11 hours and only 4 percent get under 3 hours.
Of those same people who were surveyed, 65 percent say they do not use any kind of sleep aids to help them fall asleep. Thirteen percent said yes they do use them, and 22 percent said they do sometimes.
Good sleep habits are something that are developed over time. College students are in a stressful time in their lives and need to make sure they are taking care of themselves mentally and physically.
Getting help when they are stressed and finding a good routine to follow are just two small things they can do to make sure they are living a healthy lifestyle.