Significant numbers of college students lose sleep because of personal and academic stress, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health (2009;doi:10.1016/j.adohealth.2009.06.016). Researchers conducted a survey of 1,125 college students aged 17–24 at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. The survey included questions related to sleep habits, academic performance, physical health and drug use.
Data analysis showed that more than 60% of students were “poor sleepers” and 25% slept less than 6.5 hours per night. Eight or more hours of sleep is the average recommendation for young adults. Students reported taking prescription, over-the-counter and recreational drugs to alter both sleep and wakefulness. The majority of students stated that emotional and academic stress negatively affected their sleep.
Study authors noted that chronic insomnia is a risk factor for developing depression, anxiety and substance abuse issues and that college students whose sleep quality is consistently poor are at risk for more serious issues than simply struggling to function in normal daily activities. Roxanne Prichard, assistant professor of psychology at the University of St. Thomas, told Health Behavior News Service, “Students underestimate the importance of sleep in their daily lives. They forgo sleep during periods of stress, not realizing that they are sabotaging their physical and mental health. Impairments in the immune and cardiovascular systems are health risks associated with insufficient sleep, as is weight gain.”
Researchers were particularly concerned by the students’ tendency to use alcohol and drugs to regulate sleep and wakefulness. Study authors recommended more screening for sleep difficulties among college students and more emphasis on informing college students about the importance of getting enough restorative sleep.