We’ve all been there before: staring at computer screens until the early hours of the morning, stuck in the rat race we call college, tottering between calling it quits or grinding for another hour. We trudge to our classes like the walking dead, joining the line of hunched zombies in front of the Starbucks truck waiting to fuel up. We sit in lecture and struggle to keep our eyes open, let alone listen to what the professor is saying. At least we actually went to class. Sleep deprivation can become a vicious cycle with some serious side effects, and, although challenging, students should try to break from this cycle to improve both their mental and physical health.
More than half of college students suffer from a lack of sleep. In juggling homework, studying, classes, sports, clubs and work, it can seem impossible to get a good night’s rest. For example, a student taking 16 credits is expected to put in at least 48 hours of work outside of the classroom — far more than the standard 40-hour work week. It is no surprise that, according to a study by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, more than 72 percent of college students say they’re giving up sleep. College students sacrifice sleep because of their hectic schedules and heavy workloads. Therefore, students should consider how they are using their time and ways they can improve their time management. Whether this is accomplished by breaking up assignments into small daily goals or setting a certain time each day for studying, students may find they are able to work more efficiently when they take a close look at how they are using their free time.
While many of us may place sleep on the bottom of our list of priorities, students should be wary of sleep deprivation because of its direct link to mental health. According to the National Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep impacts one’s “outlook on life, energy level, motivation and emotions.” The stress of college alone can compromise a student’s mental health, and sleep deprivation can increase feelings of depression and anxiety. As a result, students may find that they are experiencing racing thoughts, have difficulty completing day-to-day tasks and constantly feel fatigued. A study conducted at Binghamton University found that poor sleep “makes negative, intrusive thoughts stick around.” The subjects of the study were University students who experienced repetitive thoughts, and the results suggest that these thoughts may be affected by lack of sleep.
While a sleep-deprived individual may feel physically exhausted, they also may not realize the mental health consequences linked to loss of sleep, which can affect the student’s ability to reach their maximum potential in college. Sleep deprivation can also negatively impact students by affecting their motivation and ability to attend classes, thus impacting their grades in accordance with University attendance policies. This may increase levels of stress in students, further impeding mental health.
Sleep deprivation can also have serious, long-term effects on the body. While a cup of coffee may be able to mask the initial feelings of exhaustion and fogginess, constant sleep deprivation can lead to chronic issues including heart disease and hypertension that caffeine is not going to fix. In fact, caffeine consumption itself can lead to long-term, negative effects, including difficulty sleeping, nervousness and restlessness. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can also lead to other health issues including diabetes, obesity and poor immune function. While an individual may feel like they are able to function on a few hours of sleep, their body will suffer over time. Falling into a habit of getting little sleep can severely compromise the body’s ability to function, which is why the cycle of sleep deprivation is one that students should try to break free of.
While the negative effects of lack of sleep are clear, getting a full night’s sleep isn’t always possible for college students. Therefore, try your best to maximize your use of time. Functioning on a few hours of sleep can make it so much harder to complete tasks, which ultimately takes up more time — meaning more time is spent on trying to do work and less time is spent sleeping. Sleep deprivation is only occasionally worth it when work has piled up and you have no choice but to stay up and get everything done for the next day. However, this should not be habitual. Students who find they are constantly sleep deprived may need to reconsider how they are using their time, and even lighten their workload to improve their mental and physical health.
Sophia LoBiondo is a sophomore majoring in political science.