With all-nighters and the tendency to have irregular sleep schedules, college students are not getting the sleep that they need to do their best. But experts say the amount of sleep a college student should get each night is mostly related to their class workload.
Clinical psychologist Michael Breus, who has studied sleep disorders for 14 years, said that college students need 10 hours of sleep on average, but notes there really is no true estimate for the amount of sleep a student needs due because it depends on individual factors.
“The big thing for college students is keeping the schedule the same,” he said.
Breus said what students do not realize is that sleeping in on weekends is actually unhealthy and creates a feeling of jetlag during the week.
“The internal biological clock needs to be the same,” he said. “If you wake up at 7 a.m. during the week, you need to wake up at 7 a.m. on the weekend.”
Breus said if students are waking up early on the weekdays for class and sleeping in on the weekends, the brain loses a sense of pattern that establishes when it needs to sleep.
Loss of patterns can have consequences, like failure to store what students may spend hours studying into their memory.
“One of the things we know is in fact that memory in particular is affected by REM, which is the stage of sleep we move short term memory to long term memory,” Breus said.
He said if a student doesn’t get any sleep at all, there is no time to store the studied information, rendering all-nighters useless.
But for students, cramming before a test may trump a good nights sleep.
“I can tell you, I pulled an all-nighter for my bio exam last semester and took a nap for half an hour before and got a 4.0,” said pre-nursing sophomore Katherine Armstrong. “But no sleep at all is no good because I have fallen asleep during a test.”
Economics sophomore Grant Chen said he is a night owl, and usually gets about six to seven hours a sleep a night and still functions properly in school.
“I don’t generally study past midnight and generally, I don’t stay up late to study,” Chen said.
Chen said if he does stay up late, he takes a nap during the day to catch up on sleep.
Chen said he does not believe less sleep directly affects college students’ academics in a negative way. In fact, he said he believes more sleep could be harmful.
“Some people can’t get up for class,” he said. “My roommate misses his classes and sleeps all day.”
Breus said that those students who are getting too much sleep could experience health issues.
He said a person’s age and overall health, however, are probably the other two most significant factors to determine how much sleep a person needs per night.
“Not enough sleep can lower the immune system,” Breus said. “We know sleep deprivation stresses the immune system. Sleep affects every organ in the body.”
Breus said relaxing before going to bed is needed for the body to get the appropriate benefits of sleep.
“People should understand it is like slowly pulling your foot off the gas and putting it on the brake,” Breus said. “You have to allow the body to wind down before sleep.”