The value of sufficient sleep can’t be overestimated, especially for busy college students. Researchers consistently find that not getting enough sleep can significantly affect how students function.
Lack of sleep has a negative effect on the regulation of hormones and other physiological processes, such as motor skills. Sleep deprivation is also linked to an increase in cortisol, more commonly known as the body’s “stress hormone.” And stress levels have an impact on weight, mood, energy level, immunity, and concentration—so sleep is a key factor in students’ academic success.
Acute sleep deprivation is often associated with episodes of “microsleep,” or brief, uncontrollable periods of sleep lasting three to six seconds. “[They can] intrude upon wake at inopportune times, such as during a lecture,” says Dr. Michel Bornemann, a sleep medicine specialist and former codirector of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center.
It can also be more serious. Dr. Bornemann points out that research shows driving after pulling an all-nighter is “very similar to the impairment experienced when driving while intoxicated with alcohol.”
How to help students get proper sleep
- Emphasize the essential role of sleep in physical and emotional well-being. Reiterate that sleep can help them in more ways than just feeling refreshed; their stress, concentration levels, immunity, and overall health will all improve.
- Help students find ways to prioritize getting sufficient sleep. If they can prioritize what needs to be done immediately and what can wait, they’ll likely get a bit more sleep.
- Teach them about good sleep hygiene. Winding down in a dimly lit room, avoiding screens an hour before bed, and going to bed and waking around the same time each day will help them regulate their sleep cycle.
- Encourage your student to avoid driving and similar activities when drowsy. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy drivers cause 100,000 crashes every year.
Dr. Michel Bornemann, lead investigator, Sleep Forensics Associates and physician at Olmsted Medical Center, Rochester, Minnesota.
American Psychological Association. (2013). Stress and sleep. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep.aspx
Harvard School of Public Health. (n.d.). Waking up to sleep’s role in weight control. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/sleep-and- obesity/
Leproult, R., Copinschi, G., Buxton, O., & Van Cauter, E. (1997). Sleep loss results in an elevation of cortisol levels the next evening. Sleep, 20(10), 865–870. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/20/10/865/2725962
National Sleep Foundation. (2012, November 9). Young people more likely to drive drowsy. Retrieved from https://drowsydriving.org/2012/11/young-people-more-likely-to-drive-drowsy/
Watson, N. F., Buchwald, D., Delrow, J. J., Altemeier, W. A., et al. (2017). Transcriptional signatures of sleep duration discordance in monozygotic twins. Sleep, 40(1). doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsw019
Wright Jr., K. P., Drake, A. L., Frey, D. J., Fleshner, M., et al. (2015). Influence of sleep deprivation and circadian misalignment on cortisol, inflammatory markers, and cytokine balance. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 47, 24–34.