Sleep plays a critical role in students’ wellness

Noah Isherwood, Campus Carrier asst. arts & living editor

Sleep is a constant topic of conversation in classrooms, dorms and public places around campus. Students regularly discuss how much sleep they are getting, and generally realize that it is an important factor in their wellbeing as a person and student. But do they truly understand the importance of sleep in their lives? 

Terri Cordle, associate director of the Counseling Center, recognized the critical importance of sleep on the lives of students as a part of a greater picture of wellness. 

“You don’t have time to exercise, you typically don’t pay attention to nutrition, and sleep goes to the wayside because you’re up late trying to study, and all that affects your wellness,” Cordle said. 

Seven hours of sleep per night is the established minimum amount of sleep for a healthy sleep pattern, a fact that has been substantiated by many studies over several years. However, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, only four percent of students are sleeping over seven hours per night. A 2017 study by Bielefeld University in Germany showed that up to 60 percent of students suffer from subpar sleep quality, and seven percent meet all the criteria for an insomnia disorder. This lack of sleep has many consequences. 

“If we are tired our brain just doesn’t work as well,” Cordle said. “It affects concentration, whether you’re trying to concentrate in class or concentrate on a test in front of you.” 

Sleep deprivation has been tied to lowered GPA in numerous studies, and some have specifically linked lack of sleep and a student’s likelihood of dropping out of a class, or dropping out of school entirely. 

A major factor in this lack of sleep among students is a skewed perspective held by students of how sleep works. 

“Sleep doesn’t work like currency,” Cordle said. 

Many students seem to believe that they can ‘make up’ sleep as if it were a missed appointment. The science of sleep does not back up this idea. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, two weeks of sleeping six or fewer hours per night is equivalent to staying up for 48 hours straight in terms of decreased performance in memory and motor tasks. 

The flippant attitude of some students towards sleep does not help things either, according to Cordle. 

“It seems like some college students wear it as a badge of honor: ‘I only sleep four hours a night.’ That’s not really something to brag about,” Cordle said. 

Losing sleep negatively impacts health, period. The science backs it up and most students can see that it is true in their own lives. Where can a student begin to help grow a healthier relationship with sleep? It might start with consistency. 

“Sleep experts always say that it is best to keep the same sleep schedule, even on the weekend,” Cordle said. 

As much as possible, students should attempt to be in and out of bed at roughly the same times each day. Obviously, a strict regimen of this nature seems impossible for many, but even being mindful of it can help establish a more productive sleep regimen. 

Diet also plays a part in sleep, according Cordle. 

“When we are tired our body is going to want sugar and carbs, so we tend to not make the best nutrition choices,” Cordle said. 

Being mindful of diet can help students be aware of their sleep schedule. When the craving for junk food comes at 1 a.m., it may just be time to go to bed. 

A major incentive to create a more healthy sleep schedule is sleep’s impact on studying. 

“Memory consolidation goes on when you get good, restorative sleep,” Cordle said. “I know in college, if I didn’t know it by 1:30 a.m., and that was my personal cutoff, I was zoning out. Shut it off and get some sleep.” 

Sometimes the best way to study is to sleep. The construction of memory happens best when our brains are in the deeper levels of sleep, so a student’s productivity can actually be boosted by sleeping rather than cramming. The information previously learned will be retained better through sleep than through continued study. 

Ultimately, we are all in charge of the amount and quality of our sleep. Each person has unique sleep needs. Finding out about these needs is the first step to creating the best sleep schedule for you. Understanding that sleep is vitally important is the first step. 

“It really helps with our resilience, not only with the stressors of everyday life, but wellness in general, and our immune systems,” Cordle said. “It’s all part of a big system, and sleep is a very important part.”

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