Sleep deprivation affects more than a third of American adults between the ages of 18-60 who do not satisfy the minimum requirement of seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Within this demographic, sleep deprivation is often linked to the college-aged population.
Sleep quality refers to how well a person sleeps. A poor quality sleeper is categorized as someone who takes longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep and wakes up more than once a night. These factors can ultimately contribute to a lower sleep duration. A study that observed sleep habits among college students found that 70.6% of students were sleeping less than eight hours a night and 60% were poor quality sleepers.
The high prevalence of sleep deprivation among college students can be attributed to the unique circumstances created by the social environment of a college campus. One study identified specific behaviors that occur at higher rates with college students that can pose additional threats to healthy sleep habits.
Behaviors such as binge drinking and caffeine consumption can cause fragmented sleep patterns and make it harder to fall asleep. Technology use before bed and having either early or late classes were also noted as possible contributing behaviors to sleep deprivation among college students.
These behaviors can promote fragmented sleep patterns and disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, a 24-hour cycle that is synchronized with environmental cues such as natural light and promotes consistent and healthy sleep patterns.
A synchronized circadian rhythm is a significant requirement for both mental and physical health, studies have found, and disrupting it shows an increased risk in developing various clinical disorders.
Being deprived of a consistent and adequate sleep schedule poses serious long-term health consequences such as depression, mental illness and other sleep disorders. Sleep deprivation also promotes the leading cause of death in the United States, cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Cardiovascular disease includes various conditions that are primarily caused by atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque on artery walls. This buildup narrows the passageway for blood flow and can be fatal if a blood clot forms and blocks the artery through which oxygen is normally transported.
For individuals between the ages of 25 to 74, sleeping fewer than five hours per night showed an increased risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis and consequently CVD.
An additional risk factor of CVD is obesity. Negative health behaviors such as inactivity and binge drinking that are more common on college campuses are commonly associated with the increasing prevalence of obese students. Additionally, recent studies have shown that sleeping fewer than seven hours per night is also linked to a higher risk of obesity among college students.
The combination of binge drinking, inactivity and sleep deprivation on college campuses can make it easier for students to face risk factors such as obesity and hypertension, which often lead to long term cardiovascular health issues.
The presence of these risk factors among older patients who were not getting enough sleep accelerated the progression of arterial stiffness, or the level of rigidity of the arterial wall. Arterial stiffness naturally increases with age and is positively associated with CVD risk, but negative health behaviors such as sleep deprivation can speed up this process.
Interventions aimed at educating college students on the risks associated with unhealthy sleep habits and other negative health behaviors related to CVD development have been suggested as inexpensive methods to help curb these issues.
One study also recognized the potential of later class start times for promoting longer sleep durations among younger students, but more research is required to determine if this result will also apply to college-aged students. Both of these interventions ultimately rely on institutions to help foster a healthier environment for its students.