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Sleep Is A Luxury

Not for me. As a non-college student, I follow the Ernest Hemingway approach to sleeping, “I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?”

However, the college student’s perspective is different. When trying to balance the academic, social, and financial challenges of attending college sleep is often seen as a luxury. Research by The National Sleep Foundation finds that in young adults ages 18-25, the healthy range of sleep is between seven and nine hours. With that as the target for good mental and physical health, “Seventy to 96 percent of college students get less than eight hours of sleep each week night.”

According to an article by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) citing the National Alliance on Mental Illness regarding poor sleep habits, “44% of students experience symptoms of depression. Also, 80% feel overwhelmed by academic responsibilities, and 50% have struggled with anxiety. These mental health issues can hurt your ability to sleep well. Poor sleep also increases your risk of mood problems. This can lead to consequences with grades and work.”

Shelly Hershner, MD, Department of Neurology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, wrote this article in the Journal of the National Sleep Foundation., Is sleep a luxury that college students cannot afford? It provides insight into the choices that college students make and how finding time for a healthy amount of sleep is deprioritized.

The Newport Institute has identified several top reasons for sleep deprivation in college students including technology use, less time in natural light, reduced exercise, drinking alcohol, feeling of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. They have also identified well-known ways to establish healthy sleep patterns including turning off tech devices, going to bed around the same time every night, maintaining a similar bedtime routine, avoiding caffeine, avoiding naps during the day, waking up at the same time each morning, and doing some form of vigorous exercise

An environmental sleep scan conducted by five professors from Macalester College and the University of St. Thomas several years ago to “help college administrators identify areas of strength and growth in order to foster college environments that are conducive to good sleep” provides helpful information to improve the sleep habits of residential students One recommendation is to modify the roommate selection process based at least in part on sleep-related questions. Another suggestion is to consider healthy sleep housing.

One very significant finding was that “only 40% of campuses assess sleep during health history intake or clinic visits. Other colleges don’t provide sufficient resources at their campus student clinic to address the physical health impact of sleep deprivation. Other clinics do not offer adequate hours to serve students suffering from the side effects of sleep deprivation. Given the nursing shortage and turnover of existing college nurses a privatized healthcare model may address these issues.

Sleep deprivation among college students is not a new phenomenon. I could argue it is a tradition or right of passage. However, given the increase in mental health-related issues during the past several years and the focus of colleges on improving student wellness, it may be time to find real solutions.

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