College can be a busy and stressful time and when the to-do list grows too long, one activity some students choose to forgo is getting a good night’s sleep.
College students aren’t spending enough time counting sheep, “by a long shot,” according to Bill Moorcroft, a CSU faculty affiliate in the psychology department who also works with Northern Colorado Sleep Consultants.
The average adult needs eight hours of snooze time a night, but a recent New York Times article said college students are only sleeping 6 to 6.9 hours every night.
“There’s a prevailing attitude that sleep isn’t important,” Moorcroft said. “People don’t take sleep seriously enough.”
Sleep is a vital part of life, and when a person gets even an hour less sleep a night than he/she need, he/she starts to develop a “sleep debt,” according to the National Institute of Health.
Once the debt becomes too large, the person can experience “problem sleepiness-sleepiness that occurs when you should be awake and alert, that interferes with daily routine and activities and reduces your ability to function,” according the NIH Web site.
Moorcroft compared sleep debt to a brick-filled backpack worn by a student.
“For every hour you’re awake, a brick goes in the backpack and for every hour you’re asleep, two bricks come out. Eventually, the backpack can’t hold anymore bricks,” he said.
“During the summer, I only got about five hours of sleep a night and I’m still not caught up yet,” said freshman history major Anders Schulte.
Some recent studies suggest that not getting enough sleep can actually trigger depression in college students.
“If the lack of sleep goes on long enough, it can make a person more likely to be depressed,” Moorcroft said.
He cautioned, however, that depression is definitely not automatic with sleep deprivation; someone just has a higher chance of becoming depressed if they are not getting enough sleep.
There are many factors that contribute to the length of time a student spends sleeping, including schoolwork, a job or social activities.
Senior business major Linda White said she gets about six hours of sleep a night. She does not think she’s catching enough sleep, but “going out at night and procrastinating on my homework and having to do it at the last minute,” affects her sleep. She also has to wake up at 4:30 a.m. twice a week to go to work.
Senior English major Anika Walko usually manages to get her needed eight hours of sleep, but she said “too much homework and stress can keep you awake.”
However, there are many ways to increase the amount and quality of shut-eye one gets each night. One important thing to remember, said Moorcroft, is that it is best to keep a consistent sleep pattern.
“Get up at the same time every morning, including weekends, and try to go to bed at the same time every night so you get as much sleep as you need,” he said.
According to the Sleep Foundation, it is important not to eat too much before bedtime.
“Consider a small snack to ease bedtime hunger pains,” the foundation’s Web site said.
The Web site also suggests that a bed should be used for the sole purpose of sleep, so it becomes associated with slumber.
“Only get in bed when you’re tired,” the Web site stated. “If you don’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, get out of bed. When you’re sleepy, go back to bed.”
Some colleges, such as Brown University, have completely done away with 8 a.m. classes.
Liz Holman, a third-year English major, thinks reducing the number of 8 a.m. classes “might” help students get more sleep.
“I’d still have to get up and do homework. I’d probably just save more to do the next day,” she said.
Moorcroft thinks it’s a “good idea to try to reduce the number of 8:00 classes,” but admits this is easier in theory than in practice. If the administration is aware of the issue, “where it’s possible (to eliminate 8 a.m. classes), maybe they can do it,” he said.