Adequate, refreshing sleep is one of the most important ingredients of a successful college career. A recent survey of Luther students shows that in the 7 days before the survey, only 12% of students surveyed felt rested in the morning. Additionally, national surveys show that almost 20% of college students’ report sleep difficulties as a top impediment to academic performance.
Missing one night of sleep is not a disaster; the main impact of a poor night’s sleep is that you will get very sleepy and may have difficulty with focus, may react more slowly, and may have a bit less motivation the following day. You may have more difficulty with repetitive or boring tasks and your ability to make crucial judgments or think creatively may be impaired. You are probably in the most danger after a missed night of sleep if you engage in an activity such as driving. Missing adequate sleep on a regular basis may have more significant effects.
Each person needs a set amount of sleep in a 24 hour cycle to perform well. Missing out on that sleep incurs a “sleep debt” that can impact our functioning, and which accumulates over time. Caffeine or other stimulants do not replace repaying your sleep debt with needed sleep. Meanwhile, your unpaid sleep debt may cause:
All-nighters are a popular way to catch up academically for many students. Research shows that if you use all-nighters, your GPA is slightly lower on average. All-nighters have been shown to:
Athletes who get an extra amount of sleep have been shown to improve their game performance.
Adequate sleep helps one maintain mood, memory, and cognitive performance. Missing adequate sleep on an ongoing basis is more seriously impairing than one night of sleeplessness. Even small sleep losses day after day can add up to cause poor attention, inability to respond, slow thinking, impaired memory, erratic behavior, and irritability, along with slowed mental functioning.
Professional staff at the Counseling Service are available to talk with you about your sleep difficulties and to explore options for improving your sleep habits. Generally, over-the-counter sleeping medications are not effective over the long term, and often there are behavioral changes that can be made to positively impact the quality and quantity of one’s sleep.
Leading experts in sleep research strongly emphasize how critical good sleep is to quality of life and health. James B. Mass, Ph.D., professor in the psychology department at Cornell University, states, “Most adults are moderately to severely sleep deprived, and it affects their productivity, their work and their relationships. If we treated machines like we treat the human body, we would be accused of reckless endangerment.” Mass stresses that good sleep is not a luxury, but a necessity. “Your alertness, energy, performance, thinking, productivity, creativity, safety and health will be affected by how much you sleep. Good sleep is the best predictor of quality of life.” Making time for adequate sleep is essential. Beyond this first step, there are a number of steps that can improve both the quality and amount of your sleep.
If you have tried these things for several weeks and continue to have difficulty sleeping, the Counseling Service or the Health Service are resources for further help.
For more information about how to get a good night's sleep, check out this video and article from Boston University.
Tips adapted from The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne, Ph.D. and No More Sleepless Nights by Peter Hauri, Ph.D. & Shirley Linde, Ph.D.