According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young adults aged 18 and over should be getting seven or more hours of sleep every night. In reality, almost half of the adults in the United States are not getting the recommended hours of sleep.
Biologically speaking, sleep plays an irreplaceable role in maintaining brain functions. In fact, research has shown that when a person is sleeping, the brain is able to remove toxins that accumulate when the person is awake. Additionally, while a person sleeps, the brain is able to form pathways that are critical for cognitive functions such as learning and memorization.
As college is most students’ transition from dependency to autonomy, this period of time can be mentally straining for students. The constant stress of academics and finances as well as the pressure of trying to find a balance between school and a social life are among some of the major contributors leading to college students’ lack of sleep.
“For me personally, if I wanted to spend more time doing the things I loved which involved hanging out with people and participating in extracurriculars, that often came at the cost of getting a good night’s sleep. There’s a reason people say that 8 a.m.’s are the absolute worst because nightlife in college doesn’t start until past midnight,” said Kevin Xu, a second year undergraduate student at University of California, Los Angeles.
Similar to Xu’s experience, many college students struggle to find a balance between academics, extracurriculars and social life. This, coupled with the lack of high quality sleep, can lead to a number of consequences, with a decline in mental health being one of the most common results amongst college students. A study done by Oxford Academic showed that for every night of sleep deprivation, the risk of college students experiencing mental health related symptoms increase up to 20%.
In one specific research study conducted between 2011 and 2014, a total of 110,496 college students participated in a survey that recorded two factors over the course of a month: the number of nights they did not receive an adequate amount of sleep as well as the number of times they experienced certain negative feelings. Analysis of this data demonstrated a positive association between the amount of sleep deficiency and mental health symptoms. These symptoms included depressed mood, anger, anxiety, desire for self harm, loneliness and suicidal ideations.
In another case, 617 college students were chosen to be participants in a study aimed to explore the relationship between sleep and mental health. The primary conclusions of the study indicated that there was a significant association between a lack of sleep quality and anxiety disorder. In fact, students who reported poor sleep quality were almost one and a half times more likely to have anxiety as compared to those who reported high sleep quality.
Not only does sleep deprivation directly associate with negative feelings and emotions in college students, it also plays a detrimental role in affecting the cognitive function of college students. A recent study showed that total sleep deprivation for 36 hours can lead to a significant increase in reaction time as well as a decreased accuracy for cognitive performances. This decrease in ability to accurately perform cognitive tasks can affect the academic performance of college students which further generates a sense of stress and anxiety. By heightening the students’ stress and anxiety levels, the decrease in accuracy of cognitive functions can then take a toll on college students’ mental well-being, resulting in a worsening cycle.
College is certainly a period of great vulnerability as students begin to independently explore the professional world. As the pressure for the newest generation of young adults increases significantly, mental health symptoms are also becoming more and more prominent in these students. Extensive research has shown that the lack of sleep, or more specifically, a lack of high quality sleep, tends to lead to a greater risk of developing mental health related illnesses. With this knowledge in mind, it is important that students strive to look after their own mental health by diligently sleeping the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep every night.