From pulling all-nighters to partying all night, college students are notorious for not getting enough sleep, but, like everything else, there are serious consequences that many are unaware of.
Georgianna Negron-Long, a health educator in the Student Health and Counseling Center at Fresno State, has seen and experienced firsthand just how important sleep is and what can happen if you don’t get enough.
“Sleep deprivation can be a very serious thing,” Negron-Long said. “When you don’t get enough sleep obviously you are not going to be able to function at the highest level that you could normally.”
It is generally recommended that people, especially college students, sleep at least seven to eight hours a night. However, all sleep is not created equal.
“You can get seven hours of sleep, but if you are tossing and turning for those seven to eight hours, that is not good,” Negron-Long said. “You are not getting restful sleep and you are going to still wake up feeling pretty nasty and groggy.”
Not getting enough sleep has been known to affect one’s quality of life, but it can also cause difficulties for students in the classroom.
To help figure out how much of an impact, the health and counseling center conducted research by giving out national college health assessment surveys to students at random.
The surveys are given out every two years and ask a series of questions about what things may be negatively impacting a student’s grade on a project or exam to receiving a lower grade in a course to dropping a course.
Students’ names are kept completely confidential and their answers are posted on the Student Health and Counseling Center website under the tab health updates.
The results from the Spring 2015 semester listed sleep, which had a 19.5 percent rating, as being the second obstacle impacting the academic performance of students. The first one was generalized stress, which had a rating of 28.5 percent.
Negron-Long believes the statistics show that sleep is a serious issue that students face, and which is impacting their ability to succeed in their classes.
“Sleeping is incredibly important because it is your chance to heal, recharge and grow, and when you are not doing that, it is not good for you,” she said.
Fresno State student Mike Alamiz couldn’t agree more.
Alamiz, a junior majoring in chemistry, typically gets around five to six hours of sleep each night. He admitted that he needs at least seven to function at his best, but his phone and his sugar-free Monster energy drinks are keeping him from achieving that goal.
“Sleep is very important because when I don’t get enough sleep I can’t function correctly, especially in class and especially during lectures,” Alamiz said. “I am trying to drink more water and consume less caffeine, especially when I am studying.”
For Tom Le, a criminology major, sleep is not only important, but essential to rest up his brain and recharge his body so he is ready for the next day.
“I usually get seven to eight hours of sleep and if I didn’t get my seven to eight hours of sleep I wouldn’t be as productive throughout the day,” Le said. “Sometimes homework and work will cause me to not get my sleep, but I am trying to work on that.”
From an emotional standpoint, symptoms of sleep deprivation can mimic depressive symptoms such as feeling fatigued, developing memory and concentration problems, having issues with problem solving and decision making and experiencing a decreased motivation to get anything done.
Sleep deprivation can also exacerbate symptoms for someone struggling with depression.
“Sometimes it will just make you feel down because you are tired and you’ve got very little energy and then you are not able to kind of get things done and do things to the level that you normally do,” Negron-Long said.
She noted that when we sleep we are consolidating our memory, which occurs at different sleep cycles, especially the REM sleep cycle, which is when we get our most restful sleep.
“There is memory consolidation going on that is kind of getting you healed and prepared for the next day and that part or stage of sleep happens later in sleep,” she said. “So for students who are getting less sleep or pulling all-nighters and really limiting the amount of time they are sleeping, that can impact the amount of REM sleep that they are getting, which, again, is going to make them feel a lot less rested when they get up the next morning.”
Having done so herself, Negron-Long knows there are times when students have to stay up late to review for an exam, but says it is a contradictory conundrum.
“When you are studying all night for the exam the next day, you are actually doing the very thing that is going to get in your way of remembering it,” she said. “You are staying up all night so you can remember more, but then you are not getting the sleep that is going to help you remember it, so you are kind of shooting yourself in the foot.”
Those who continue to stay up all night are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and obesity among other health problems that will only get worse by the day if people, especially students, don’t change their sleeping habits.
Liberal studies major Mayra Fernandez, a freshman, was used to getting a good eight hours of sleep all through high school, but that all changed once she started college.
“Sleep for me was always really important, but I would say now more than ever,” Fernandez said. “I think because I just started this new job and my classes are crazy. Now I get around six to seven hours of sleep and I need at least eight and a half hours in order to function at my best.”
Trying to adjust to her new schedule, Fernandez has been trying a couple of things to help her make the most of the limited amount of time she has to get some shut-eye.
“I haven’t been able to sleep at night sometimes and I think it is anxiety and stress,” Fernandez said. “I am trying to drink tea in the night and that helps me to be at ease and calm and I just recently started to listen to soft music.”
Some ways to prevent or recover from sleep deprivation is by practicing sleep hygiene and viewing sleep as something that is a necessary component to living like eating and breathing and not as an indulgence or a luxury.
“It is a necessary thing,” Negron-Long said. “You would never tell yourself that you could not eat or you could not drink water. People often like to think of sleep as something that they can avoid and catch up on later, but would you ever think that with water?”
One of the best ways to get good rest is by creating a mind and body association, which can be achieved by training your body to understand when it is time to sleep and time to get up. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day is by far the best way to train your brain to ensure that you get a good night’s rest, but breaking this routine can be dangerous.
“If you don’t keep the same kind of sleeping and waking schedule, you are going to be more likely to develop problems falling asleep and staying asleep,” Negron-Long said. “Keep the same sleep time and wake time, even on the weekends, which can be really hard for students, but you can sleep in about an hour on the weekends or on your days off.”
It is a fact that most students have to work and go to school and just don’t have the time to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. From personal experience, Negron-Long believes all is not lost because if students are getting limited hours of rest such as five hours, they can still make do if they are getting it on a regular basis.
“Even if you are getting limited hours of sleep, those limited hours are going to be more impactful if you are keeping it consistent because you are getting more to those REMs and later stages of sleep,” she said. “I am not recommending it, but if you are forced to get less sleep, keeping it consistent will make that sleep more impactful.”
Another important thing is to avoid bright lights and screens such as those from TVs, cell phones, tablets and other electronic devices at least 45 minutes prior to going to bed.
“There is a certain kind of light that is emitted from those machines that trigger a signal to your brain to say ‘this is still a time to be awake’ and those signals can also get in the way of the nice, easy sleep,” Negron-Long said.
For those who use their cell phones or tablets as alarms, the best thing is to turn them over when sleeping.
Students who live with a friend or a roommate know all too well that getting good sleep is hard to come by, especially when they each have different class and work schedules.
A couple of tips that can help avoid being disturbed is to invest in some earplugs and sleeping masks. Those who have unusual school and work schedules and find themselves getting the majority of their sleep during the day should consider getting blackout curtains to block out the sunlight.
However, doing all these things may not be of much help to someone who consumes a lot of caffeine or smokes regularly because both are stimulants and send signals to your brain that it is still time to be awake.
“It can be really difficult for people who actually smoke because they might find it relaxing to smoke, but it still doesn’t change the fact that nicotine is truly a stimulant,” Negron-Long said. “So again, it is best to avoid any kind of stimulating activity 45 minutes to an hour prior of going to bed and this also includes doing anything physical.”
Arcellie Santos, a health promotion wellness services graduate student assistant, said that although she feels sleep is essential, it is a challenge for her because she is busy with school, work, and extracurricular activities such as clubs that require a lot of her time and energy.
She added that there are other factors that she has more control over such as playing on her phone that is also keeping her from getting adequate rest, which she plans on trying to fix for her benefit.
“I am trying to power down at least half an hour to an hour before going to bed because I, like a lot of students, am guilty of looking at my phone or my tablet before going to bed,” Santos said.
Sarah Gomez, a fourth-year psychology student, tries to get as much sleep as possible because she knows it is key to living a healthy life, but ever since she started college, she has only been able to manage five hours. She said one of the reasons is not so much being too busy, but just not managing her time well.
“I think if I got more rest that I would be more productive throughout the day,” Gomez said. “I feel I can get more sleep by prioritizing my life and making sure that I am not wasting my time.”
Perhaps an even more severe problem when trying to get quality rest is consuming alcohol within hours of going to sleep.
“Alcohol kind of tricks people because it shortens the first cycle of sleep, which is how long it takes you to fall asleep,” Negron-Long said. “So it does in fact decrease that length of time to actually fall asleep, however, it disrupts later sleep schedules and those later ones are particularly important for getting good rest.”
Consuming alcohol while sleep deprived has also been proven to increase the risk of falling asleep at the wheel and getting into a car accident.
A common rule among health experts for those who like to take a lot of naps is to either reduce the number of naps or, the better option, to stop napping all together.
“It is also important to avoid napping because again, you are trying to set that sleep and wake schedule,” Negron-Long said. “If you are going to get a nap in there, it is OK as long as you keep it brief like 20 minutes, but it is better if you can avoid them at all possible.”
In the case of a student with a sleeping disorder like insomnia, a regimen for napping may be helpful, but it is recommended that they speak with a medical professional before engaging in any napping routines.
Negron-Long believes the only way students and people in general will improve their quality of sleep is to understand how their bodies work and to try and incorporate all the sleep hygiene tips into their lives at a pace that is comfortable for them.
“With all these things, you have to find what works best for you even if you just start one at a time and add more slowly until you kind of get them all down,” she said. “You can have all of these great plans to do sleep hygiene, but if you can’t even get one of the tips in there, what good will it do for you?”
It is highly recommended for those who follow the tips and are still not seeing results to seek out medical help as they may be suffering from a chronic sleeping disorder that requires other types of management and possibly medications.