Sleep deprivation is detrimental to student health and happiness

Graphic by Penelope Taylor '20

Graphic by Penelope Taylor '20


College students today are struggling to maintain good grades, social lives and jobs, as well as a healthy sleep schedule. This has resulted in many college students being sleep deprived, especially around midterms and finals, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Studies done at Brown University, Stanford Medical Center, Harvard Medical School and through organizations like the American Psychology Association all concur that sleep deprivation among students is a consistent issue. 

Many students succumb to the idea that pulling an all-nighter and cramming will help them on a test when it may actually be doing the opposite. Sleep deprivation can be detrimental to students’ abilities to learn and focus, their physical health and their social lives. Sleep scientist Matthew Walker spoke with NPR about the dangers of sleep deprivation.

“Every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep,” said Walker, “so that classic maxim that you may [have] heard that ‘you can sleep when you’re dead,’ it’s actually mortally unwise advice from a very serious standpoint.”

Lack of sleep has been linked to depression and anxiety, weight gain, reduced immunity to diseases and possible relationships to high blood pressure and heart disease, according to ABC News. Despite the proven consequences of inadequate sleep cycles, there often seems to be no sign of improvement for students and sleep deprivation remains a part of the college lifestyle. Hannah Summerfield-Gonchar ’21 noted that “Between academics, clubs, sports and just a social life in general, it is impossible for college students to get enough sleep.”

There are many reasons as to why sleep deprivation seems to impact students more heavily than any other age group. One reason for this is the biology of adolescents. Naturally, adolescents tend to wake up later in the day than adults and stay up later at night, but they need one to two extra hours of sleep each night in order to properly function the next day according to Dr. Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University. Dr. Carskadon also spoke to The New York Times about this issue. 

 “Some people don’t get it, that this is biology,” she said. “Adolescent sleep delay is not just in human teenagers; it’s seen in other juvenile mammals.”

For both high school and college students, early starting times have been cited as a reason why students are unable to get proper amounts of sleep. At many colleges including Mount Holyoke, students get to pick their own class times, often but, necessary introductory level classes are only held at 8:35 a.m., leaving students with no other options but to take the early classes. 

In addition to early class times, research has shown that technology usage before bed may be impacting the natural circadian rhythm of adolescents. Blue light emitted from screens can to suppress melatonin, preventing one from feeling tired, according to ABC. Some students try to use electronics as a method to fall asleep, but these devices tend to act as a stimulant to the brain. As a result, many experts suggest storing electronics across the room, turning off notifications at night and trying to read a book before bed instead of browsing through Facebook or Twitter as ways to get a proper amount of sleep.